Brooklyn PetSmart Puts the Bite on Small Pet Shops, Locals Say

By Janet Upadhye on June 12, 2012 7:46am 

Kil Chung, owner of Smith Pet Food, has a hard time stocking his shelves since Petsmart opened around the corner from his shop.
Kil Chung, owner of Smith Pet Food, has a hard time stocking his shelves since Petsmart opened around the corner from his shop.
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Janet Upadhye/DNA

BROOKLYN — PetSmart, the first mega-chain pet store to paw its way into northern Brooklyn, has severely hurt the sales of nearby mom-and-pop pet stores, shopkeepers claim.

There are 20 small pet stores within a two-mile radius of PetSmart, which opened last October on Atlantic Avenue and Boerum Place in Cobble Hill.

One small shop, Smith Pet Food, sits just around the corner from the chain.

“The day PetSmart opened, my business started to go down,” said Smith Pet Food owner Kil Chung. “They are killing me.”

Chung said that very soon he would be out of business, as he pointed out empty shelves that he claims he can no longer afford to fill.

Chung said he opened his small shop over 12 years ago and has generally done very good business there. He used to see repeat customers regularly and felt like an integral part of the neighborhood, he explained.

Nowadays, Chung spends many hours of his workday standing outside of his shop, watching one person after another pass by carrying PetSmart bags, he said.

“I feel very sad every time I see someone that used to shop with me carrying that bag,” Chung said.

But Smith Pet Food is not the only store suffering. Pet Boutique and Supplies on Sixth Avenue in Park Slope has also seen a decline in business.

"Of course PetSmart is affecting us," said Mike Saadi who works at Pet Boutique. "They are right around the corner, and we can't compete with their prices."

PetSmart is nearly half a block long and carries almost every product imaginable. The wide selection is what draws in a lot of pet owners who used to shop at smaller local stores, patrons said.

“My dog has stomach issues, and no other store carries the food he will eat,” said Park Slope resident Stacey Owen. “Plus, where else can I buy a whole bag of treats for 10 dollars?”

Moreover, PetSmart's prices are more affordable than what many of the smaller stores could ever offer. Chung gave an example of his dilemma by noting that he buys a large bag of Purina dog food from his distributor for $35 dollars — the exact price PetSmart charges customers for the same bag.

“I have to sell that food for at least $40 dollars to pay my rent,” he said. “But then customers say they get it cheaper there, and leave.”

Residents from surrounding are also beginning to flock to PetSmart to enjoy the savings.

While the chain may be threatening small businesses, owners said, it is also creating jobs. PetSmart currently employs 35 staff, and with the exception of a few, they all hail from Brooklyn.

Store manager Scott Marcus explained that his employees have a real passion for animals and are no different than the people who own and work at the smaller shops.

"We knew it would be hard, as a big company, to be new in the community," he said. "But we have worked hard to show that we really care about animals and want the best for our customers."

Marcus went on to say that the store has partnered with the community in many positive ways, such as running an adoption and rescue center and welcoming kids from local schools to learn about animals. 

However, he declined to comment on how PetSmart is affecting small pet businesses. 

In Fort Greene, the owner of ABC Pet Supply on DeKalb Street hasn’t seen any major shifts in sales. The manager at Kiki’s Pet Spa and Boutique, also on DeKalb Street, said that business is better than ever.

But other small pet storeowners in Fort Greene are worried.

Tracy Klanowski, owner of Who’s Your Doggy?, claimed she's seen an $8,000-a-month decrease in sales, but cannot attribute the loss directly to PetSmart.

“I hear mutterings about PetSmart,” she said. “I’m afraid that when the neighborhood really catches onto their existence, my business will suffer more.”

She added was that there was no chance to fight against the chain's arrival, saying she had no idea the store was coming until its doors were already open.

Klanowski’s complaint echoes those of Chung on Smith St. He said small business owners could not organize themselves against the arrival of the corporate chain because nobody knew they were coming until it was too late.

“There is no justice here,” said Chung. “Only money counts.”

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