Paws & Fins celebrates 20 years by moving to a larger location

Come April, Bainbridge Island’s pet store, Paws & Fins, will be moving. Across the street.

“We just need more room,” said owner Wiccan York. “There’s just no place here to add inventory. And our delivery trucks have a hard time getting in here. Plus there’s limited parking for our customers.”

The new location, at 1050 Hildebrand Lane, will give Paws & Fins double the floor space, provide storage room, office space and more parking for customers. And it will be easier to get trucks in and out when delivering inventory to the store.

York, who’s owned the company for the past 20 years, is extremely excited about the new location.

“Dec. 14 will mark our 20th year,” she said. “In that time, we’ve been in four locations, each time because we needed more space.”

The new location, which is where Silver Screen Video was located, is across from Wells Fargo Bank and just a “hop, skip and jump” from where the store is now.

At the new place, the store will span 4,300 square feet.

“We are just too crowded,” York said. “Customers come in asking for products that I really want to add, but I have no space.”

Because of the limited space, York is careful not to keep items that don’t sell.

“The space is just too valuable,” she said. “If it doesn’t turn a profit in a certain amount of time, it will be replaced.”

York started out 20 years ago, after she worked for the previous owners. They recruited her from another retail business close by and in the beginning, she was just part-time, working two jobs.

“Then I became the store manager,” she said. “And after about a year, they decided to move off island and asked me to buy the business.”

At first, York wasn’t so sure. She knew nothing about owning a business. She has a journalism degree from the University of Oregon, and had worked in public relations for AT&T, until she moved back to the island where she grew up. She is a 1989 graduate of Bainbridge High School.

“When I decided to buy the business, I said, ‘I know nothing about business, but I guess I’m going to learn.’”

What she has learned could fill a book. The most important thing: “My customers are amazing.”

“I wouldn’t still be here if it wasn’t for them,” she said. “They’ve been very loyal and they are just like family.”

She’s also learned that you have to have great employees.

“You have to have good people around you,” York said. “One of my employees has been with me since the beginning. Another has been here 17 years, and another 15 years.”

In all, she has nine employees and the store is open every day of the week.

She’s also learned that owning pets is a lifestyle for those who trade with her.

“For many of my customers, their dogs and cats are their children,” she said. “They’ve chosen not to have kids and their pets are their family.”

In the store, about 75 percent of the space is devoted to needs for dogs and cats. But the store also stocks items for small animals, such as hamsters, fish and birds. The business carries supplies, supplements, more than 50 brands of high-quality pet food, toys, training equipment, beds and treats.

She’s also seen trends in pet ownership change throughout the years.

“When I first was here, islanders had big black labs,” York said. “Recently, people are going for smaller dogs and cats. I think it’s because they are living in apartments or condos and they have lifestyles that require something smaller.”

York considers herself a cat person. At home, she has five cats and four dogs and a fish named Secretariat.

At the store, there’s three “store” cats, Julie, 16, and Leonard and Sheldon, who are about 2 years old. Often times you’ll see one of them “testing” out a hideaway bed, or sitting on the front desk on the computer where it’s warm.

York’s dog, Caleb, a Cardigan Corgi, is her travel companion and comes to work with her daily.

Animals have always been a part of her life.

She has shown cats since she was a young girl and she has been a part of search-and-rescue teams using German shepherds.

The move to the new location will require some remodeling of the space and city permits. York said she was told it will take 4 to 12 weeks to get the permits, so she thinks the move will be in April.

In the meantime, she plans some 20th anniversary events, like special sales and give-aways (get updates on the store’s Facebook page).

York considers giving back to the community part of what a good business owner does. She fosters kittens for PAWS and she works with feral cat programs throughout the area.

“I try to give back as much as possible,” she said. “That’s part of who I am. And I love my job. I get to hear stories from my customers about their pets and I feel like they are my own.

“Without my customers, I’d never had the success I’ve had. There’s just nothing better than owning a pet store.”

Paws & Fins is currently located at 360 Torrey Lane NE, Suite 198, and can be reached at 360-780-1141.

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