You’ve seen a bodega cat. How about a barber shop rooster?
By Alexandra Genova
Yes, New York’s beloved bodega cats are internet famous. An Instagram account dedicated to chronicling the friendly felines who live at corner delis, serving as both exterminators and entertainers, has more than 400,000 followers. But these aren’t the only animals at home in neighborhood small businesses. There’s the pigeon turned unofficial laundromat mascot. The rescue parrots who keep everyone company in a liquor store. And the rooster who helps a barber stave off homesickness.
In a challenging time for small businesses, any way to stay one foot — or four — ahead of the competition is key. And shop pets help on that front. They can transform a store into a community fixture. They befriend customers and become a reason for them to stop by. For owners, pets bring family into the workplace, helping fend off loneliness during lulls in the day. Animals can also lead to bonus attention, essentially free advertising.
“The customer gets an unforgettable experience, and the interaction can inspire customers to share their experience on social channels,” said Lisa Apolinski, a digital strategy expert who works with small businesses.
While the in-store animals have many fans and offer a marketing boost, not everyone is delighted by a bird in Aisle 3. Gale Mayron, who owns Jao Social Club, a Brooklyn gift shop that is also the residence of Gertie the dove, has seen the downside: “One of my employees is afraid of feathers,” she said.
Fausto Stilo Barber Shop
— Fausto Stilo, owner
— Dulce De Leche, rooster
Since 2000, when Fausto Stilo opened his barbershop in Sunset Park, Brooklyn, it has also been home to roosters. Each bird, he said, is a tribute to his deceased older brother, who raised roosters and gave him his first bird as a child. The current resident rooster is named Dulce De Leche.
Teachers from neighboring Charles O. Dewey Intermediate School 136 use Stilo and Dulce De Leche as subjects for class projects. “It makes me happy when the kids come to the window,” Stilo said. “Even when they finish school, the first they come to see the chicken or to say hello to me.”
People in the neighborhood also stop by to see his birds. “When they come and see it, the chickens give them a flashback to home,” Stilo said.
Immigrants from all over the world — Puerto Rico, where he is from; Russia; Poland — have told him that the animals remind them of where they came from.
“When they tell me that, it’s like I’m making their day,” he said. “And so that makes me more happy when they give me a compliment about the chicken.”
Crest Hardware & Urban Garden Center
— Joe Franquinha and Liza Franquinha, owners
— Franklin, potbellied pig
Crest Hardware & Urban Garden Center in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, is a place for animal lovers. And Franklin the pig.
“People like to shop where they feel welcome,” said Joe Franquinha, who owns the store with his wife, Liza. “They know, ‘Oh I can take my dog out and do those errands because Crest loves animals.’”
And customers, in turn, love one animal in particular: Franklin.
“He’s got his own weird little cult following of customers that love to come in and check in on him or ask and see how he’s doing,” Joe Franquinha said.
“When we would host the Crest Hardware Art Shows, it was always artwork about or made with hardware. He was a lot of people’s muse.”
Cypress Hills Taxidermy Studio
— John Youngaitis, owner
— Pablo, milk snake
— Sparky, African gray parrot
“Sparky’s like my companion because she talks all day,” John Youngaitis said of the pet parrot who spends time with him at his taxidermy studio in Queens. “She hangs out with me. I work; she sits on my shoulder. So, yeah, there is definitely a connection.”
Sparky is more talkative than Pablo.
“The snake is just decoration,” Youngaitis said. “Something exotic and cool, and it kind of goes.”
Pablo does fit in well with everything else in a taxidermy shop: “I like all animals, live and dead,” Youngaitis said. “It’s all nature to me.”
Old Village Wines and Liquors
— Eli Mashieh, owner
— Nine exotic birds
Eli Mashieh sells wine and liquor at his shop in Great Neck, on Long Island. He also runs a parrot rescue out of the same place.
Mashieh frequently posts to Craigslist in search of more parrots, always with the disclaimer: “Please do not contact me regarding buying my birds. My birds are my children and my life. ”
“Parrots are very social and intelligent animals,” he said. “Just like a toddler, they need to be with their owner when they are awake. This keeps them mentally active and happy.”
He added, “Since I do bird rescues, I see parrots that are left home in their cage all day by themselves.” That’s not what Mashieh does, even in the store. “I don’t cage my birds. I use the cage just when they sleep.”
— Maria Gomez and Juan Carlos Salgado, owners
— Petra, pigeon
Petra the pigeon came to the owners of Glo Laundromat in Ridgewood, Queens, as an injured young bird. Now she’s a star.
“She’s brought more tourists or customers to our store, without realizing she’s been promoting,” said Juan Carlos Salgado, who owns the laundromat with his mother, Maria Gomez. Guests come by just to see Petra or to take pictures with her.
Gomez is known in the neighborhood as “the pigeon lady” and will often be sent birds for her to rehabilitate. “Whenever a pigeon can’t fly,” her son said, “they bring them over here.”
Petra is “part of the family. She’s always watching over,” Salgado said. “My mom tells her, ‘If I’m not here, Petra, you’re the woman of the business.’”
Jao Social Club
— Gale Mayron, owner
— Gertie, dove
The white dove outside a gift shop in Brooklyn needed a rescue. Now she is named Gertie, and she lives at the store.
“I love talking to her,” said Gale Mayron, who owns the shop, Jao Social Club. “We give her bird baths. We make sure she’s well fed. She’s got freedom — she’s not locked in a cage.”
She added, “She seems happy, and I just have fallen in love with her.”
After some research, Mayron learned that Gertie is a type of dove bred to be released at weddings or funerals. “They’re not wild birds,” she said. “She will be killed outside.”