Steve Parsons was overcome by grief when he lost his life partner last year to cancer. Their retail store, Bill McKnight Design, had already been shuttered and Parsons was at a loss as to what to do next with his life.
One day he discovered the answer while revisiting a Christmas card given to him by McKnight before he died last March. It featured two beagles endearingly leaning against each other, “sort of like an old couple,” said Parsons.
The idea spawned Butch & Beechers, a store for “pampered pets,” which Parsons opened in September in the Winslow Mall. By the way, Butch was McKnight’s nickname, while Parsons’ sobriquet was Beecher.
“It’s just my cute little shop for dogs and cats,” Parsons said on the phone this week from New York City, where he was attending the city’s International Gift Show.
“But, really, for me it’s more than that. I’m still grieving, but this place got me out of the house and has really helped me deal with the loss of Bill.”
The progression was a natural one for Parsons, who loves animals and lives on an island where dogs and cats practically outnumber humans.
He’d also picked up a tip or two from McKnight, whose retail store in Winslow Green featured home decor.
“Bill was a good teacher about the techniques of interior design,” Parsons said. “I knew I wanted sort of an old-fashioned mercantile store, one that has a warm feeling, is dark and cozy, and with lots of stuff that you don’t find anywhere else.”
With only 600 square feet to play with, it wasn’t difficult to fill the store from its black-and-white tile floor to the ceiling with merchandise that proud parents would buy to mollycoddle their poodles or angoras.
At first glance, the store, with its doggie slickers and cashmere sweaters, has a high-end feel to it.
“The idea is to have a stylish, very different store with quality merchandise,” Parsons said. “But I’ve also been able to keep the prices down. They are competitive with the big-box stores.
“Because it’s on Bainbridge, the store had to be one that people enjoy shopping in. I knew that. They’re not going to find clothing like mine anywhere else on the island.”
Certainly it’s doubtful that you’ll find elsewhere the rubber-like slippers that protect sensitive dog and cat paws during the wet Northwest winters. They look like small, colorful balloons and sell for $14-$16 dollars for four of them.
He has been a little surprised with the shop’s financial success five months into the endeavor, especially since the opening coincided with an economic downturn.
He admits he “might have been scared” if he had known about the pending doom, but he had no hesitancy at the time it opened.
“I thought it out and I know how people love their pets here,” he said. “Also, industry indicators I read said this business is going up, not down. I’ve done a lot of retail, so I didn’t really have any doubts about it. I’m very happy with the response.”
Parsons, who is a trained psychotherapist, believes that people often dote on their pets more during times of stress, in essence, turning to them for therapeutic aid.
So, buying them a special gift or making sure they eat the best food makes sense during hard times, which is good for the owner of a pet store.
Parsons has his own pet to spoil, a nearly 5-year-old West Highland Terrier named Finnie. His Westie is literally part of the furniture in the shop.
“When Flowering Around (the previous tenant) closed they left an old counter, sort of a glass jewelry case,” Parsons said.
He removed the back part of the case and put Finnie’s bed in it.
“He never leaves that spot when we’re at the store,” Parsons said. “He’s the little doggie in the window (he’s not for sale). Some people think he’s a stuffed animal because he’s usually sleeping.”
The most rewarding part of being a new storeowner on Winslow Way, said Parsons, who has lived on the island since 2001, is being able to reconnect with the many people he and McKnight met at their previous store.
“In a way, I guess I’m just trying to keep his legacy going,” Parsons said. “We had a great relationship for 14 years. Everyone knew us because we had longevity as a couple and a business. And he was very special. People come in now and wonder what happened to Bill. I tell them he passed away and it gets tearful and I cry.
“But they’ve followed me down here and I appreciate it. A lot of them are my clients now. It means a lot.”
And, yes, Butch & Beecher allows pets and small children in their store, as long as their parents keep them on a lease and under control. Wink. Nod.