It’s not so often you see a dog driving.
But dogs – and yes, the occasional cat as well – are driving traffic to a handful of establishments on Hertel Avenue. Business owners there, particularly in the block between North Park and Saranac Avenues, are finding that proclaiming themselves pet-friendly makes for happy patrons – customers as loyal as man’s best friend.
The trend is not unique to Buffalo; visitors to New York City, for example, are accustomed to seeing dogs in a lot of shops and restaurant patios. But it fits with the neighborhood character of North Buffalo. Nothing breaks the ice like a dog at your side.
At the newly opened Daisy’s Doghouse, for example, owner Lisa Samar takes a picture of every dog that comes through the door – many of them, she notes, rescue dogs. Her “Hounds of Hertel” display has already overflowed onto a third picture board.
“There is a huge dog-friendly population here,” says Samar, “and this business is catering to people who love their dogs.”
Dogs sometimes drag their owners into Daisy’s, drawn by the elk-antler chewy bones and other high-end playthings. But Samar says it’s almost never a problem; if their dog is testy, people leave it home. She has been bitten just once, she says – “by a teeny-tiny dog who didn’t want a harness.”
Less dog-centric businesses, too, are inviting the neighborhood canines in. At Modern Nostalgia and Blue Collar, owner Brianne Long sometimes brings one of her dogs to work, posting a sign on the door gate: “Our shop dog Willoughby is in the house. Come on in, he is just a Corgi.”
“This is our home, and we want it to feel like a home,” Long says. “I would never want someone tying up their dog and leaving him outside in the heat. This is a very, very community-driven neighborhood. There are lots of kids and lots of dogs. If they can’t come in with their dog, it’s almost like they can’t come in with their child.”
Long is opening a new location downtown at Harbor Center, but it’s not like home – no dogs allowed there.
Next door at the Parker Pharmacy, owner and pharmacist Barbara Madison keeps a water dish outside and dog treats (all natural!) behind the counter. She also fills prescriptions for some pet medicines.
And at the New Age store Love Light & Magick, owner Kurtlyn Cunningham says, “There are tons of dog walkers around here, and I’ve become friends with a lot of dogs in the neighborhood.” She has to watch that fearful people don’t get spooked by rambunctious dogs, she says. But she keeps the breakables up high, and owners often will take their dogs off leash. “They run around in circles,” Cunningham says. “It’s one big playground for them.”
At the furniture and décor store called room, co-owner David Brugh says a visit from a leashed customer is a welcome diversion. “We play with them and keep them occupied. It’s a nice break for us, and it lets people shop while we play with the dogs,” he says. “It’s just an everyday thing.”
The store has nice things. Isn’t it risky to let the dogs in?
“People are so respectful. There’s never been an issue,” Brugh says. Although: “Dogs are not allowed on the furniture – we’re not THAT pet-friendly.”
The new frontier is letting dogs hang out with their owners on restaurant patios. The State Legislature recently passed a “Dining With Dogs” bill that makes it legal for restaurants to allow dogs in outdoor eating areas. In truth, though, a handful of bars and coffee shops in North Buffalo have gotten ahead of the law, seemingly without controversy.
“When I lived in Maryland, there were places where there were always people and their dogs out on the patio. It’s fun, a great icebreaker, especially for a bar,” says Mike Petrillo, owner of Belsito.
Petrillo keeps water dishes for passing dogs outside, saying, “It creates a lot of goodwill, and it forces people to stop right in front of our place.” And if someone wants to have lunch or a beer outside with the pooch at their feet, well, it’s no problem.
“We like to meet the dogs and play with them,” Petrillo says. “And for us to survive as a business, we need people from the neighborhood to be here. So we try to think of creative ways to get people and their dogs here.”