ANIMAL HOUSE: Lissa Shoun took over as owenr of Andy's Pet Shop in late 2007. Since that time, she has cleaned up the business while expanding rescue services, but finances are tight.
It doesn’t take long for Ruby to say hello when I walk into Andy’s Pet Shop. The scarlet macaw’s red, yellow and blue feathers resemble the store’s original landmark sign. Ruby is part mascot, part door greeter for the oldest pet shop in San Jose.
Like every other animal in the store—from guinea pigs, hamsters and rabbits to snakes, lizards, fish, birds and more—Ruby entered Andy’s doors through rescue efforts. But it isn’t just the inhabitants of this 62-year-old pet shop that need saving. Lissa Shoun, owner of Andy’s since late 2007, says the San Jose institution is once again in danger of closing—within the next year—if it is unable to transition the adoption center half of the store to a nonprofit.
“It’s actually kind of miracle that we’re still here,” Shoun says. “I feel like I’ve been hanging from the side of the cliff for three and a half years now.”
The economic downturn hasn’t helped business, the owner says, but it hasn’t been the main problem in balancing the books. “The main factor was that under the old business model, Andy’s Pet Shop was making money selling puppies from the Midwest,” Shoun says, referencing disreputable, for-profit puppy mills. “It’s been a struggle remaking the business by selling pet supplies.
“I’ve got a lot of people who were boycotting Andy’s, because they were the last store in San Jose that was selling puppies. But many people who stopped coming are back because it’s all rescue. I’ve got grandparents who came to Andy’s, and now they’re bringing their children into the store. They tell me, ‘I remember when you had a tiger in the store.’ A lot of people also remember the monkeys that were being sold. Those people have the nostalgia from their childhood.”
Groups such as North Star Rescue, Mickaboo Companion Bird Rescue, MickaCoo and West Coast Boxer have rescued every one of the 50-100 pets that inhabit the store at any given time. Kathy Galgano, a volunteer at Andy’s, says: “I think that Andy’s may be the only pet store in the country where you can find reptiles, fish, birds, dogs, cats, rodents, even beetles, all of which are rescues.”
Shoun hopes to save Andy’s Pet Shop by splitting the business into two entities: a nonprofit adoption center for the animals and a for-profit food/supply store.
“My goal is to provide an adoption center that works with rescue groups, showcases their pets when they are ready to be adopted and assists in the adoption process,” says Shoun, who expects to have a business plan prepared for a fiscal agent in the next few weeks. Time, however, is running short.
On average, Andy’s has received $1,000-$2,000 a month in donations. But over the holidays, the pet shop brought in just $600 one month, Shoun says, making it harder to afford upkeep costs and medicine for animals that fall ill. The store’s landlord has been gracious in granting extensions to pay rent, Shoun says, but the business could be gone within a year unless it can start fundraising through grant applications.
“It’s the donations and public support that’s kept us going,” Shoun says. “We need a big leg up to get us out of such a precarious position.”
Andy’s Pet Shop may be the only business that can claim it was saved by rats. After being booted from its location of nearly 60 years on The Alameda near downtown San Jose, Andy’s spent the better part of 2010 looking for a new home. It found its current location— 51 Notre Dame Ave.—in December 2010, but months of repairs were necessary.
On A&E’s season finale of the show Hoarders, back in 2011, the production company contacted North Star, which specializes in pet rodent rescues, about an extreme number of rats inside a man’s house. Lauren Paul, a board member and president of North Star, flew out to Llano, Calif., to assess the situation. It was worse than she imagined.
“Initially, they sent us a picture, and it was just rats as far as you could see,” Paul recalls. “We went down to scout the property, and we found more than a thousand in the floor, the walls.”
North Star contacted Andy’s, which had just settled into its new location. A deal was reached with the TV show’s production company, which offered to cover the costs of resurfacing the floor for the rescued rats.
“There aren’t a bunch of landlords out there who would be excited to have a temporary rent for 1,000-2,000 rats,” Paul says. “That’s where Andy’s Pet Shop came in, and without them I know we would have never been successful. It was also a good way to show people that the pet store was coming back.”
“We didn’t want to kick the rats out, so we kept adopting them,” Shoun recalls. “There were twice as many rats than we expected.”
Amazingly, it only took about a year for every rat to be adopted.
“People were driving for hours to adopt some of those rats, because they were …“—Shoun stops, pausing to let out a quick chuckle—“famous.”
Paul’s experience working with Andy’s goes back years and she even volunteered temporarily with the store. She remembers times when homeless men and women would come to the storefront with few options to treat their pets.
“There’s a huge homeless population down there, and they have people walking in with injured dogs, injured cats, and they don’t want the animals to be euthanized. It’s not a service [Andy’s] really offer[s], but they don’t turn aside anything they can help.”
To find out more information about Andy’s Pet Shop, go to andyspetshop.com. Josh Koehn contributed to this report.