The perfect ambassadors of businessMeet Waynesville's favorite shop pets
What makes someone popular? Self-help books might tell you it's an intangible cocktail of confidence and charisma, but many business owners in downtown Waynesville know better. They can see, above all, it takes two things: fur and a desire to be petted.
Shop pets are big here — and probably all across the country — and it's easy to see why. From dogs to cats to even fish, these little creatures aren't just mascots. They easily become customers' favorite employees, without lifting a paw.
Meet Buford, also known as that doggie in the window at Cook's Abbey Carpet and Floor on South Main Street. A wrinkled and surly-looking bulldog with the physique of a pot roast, he spends his days sitting contently at his perch as passersby wave and gawk, and often come in to give him a good petting. As co-owner Chuck Cook can see, Buford doesn't have to do anything to be the star of the show.
"He's become such a part of this little area here," said Cook, who opened up the business beside Blue Ridge Books a few months back.
He joked that he never had an intention of having an "ol', slobbery bulldog" in the store. In fact, Buford belongs to his in-laws. When the store was just opening up, however, the dog came for a visit and promptly went to sleep in the window. It didn't take long for Cook to notice that a cluster of people had gathered on the other side of the glass and were trying to figure out whether or not the dog was real.
"We saw that he was stopping traffic," Cook said.
So, he and his family decided to put Buford, now 10 months old, to "work" full-time. Nowadays, the dog gets a steady steam of treats and gifts from his fans. He even gets phone calls. It's enough to let Cook know that his store has already found its place in the community — as Buford's home.
"Sometimes your niche finds you, I guess," he said.
A few blocks down the street, Blue Mountain Brokers has become known for a totally different kind of pooch. Fluffy and always excited about the world, Banjo is about as frenetically energetic as you might imagine a year-old shih tzu could be.
As his "mom," Holly Fletcher, put it, "He's a talker."
He's also an ice breaker. Though little Banjo isn't always "guarding" the office, when he is, Fletcher can be sure the conversation will flow freely with her clients, usually starting with talk of pets. The real estate agent knows Banjo puts people at ease. He even has a following at SunTrust Bank across the street, where tellers will often drop whatever they're doing to give Banjo a treat.
"Everybody wants to pet him," Fletcher gushed.
That's good for business, but it's also just good for her and her husband, who get to have a fuzzy companion with them during a day's work at the office or adjacent Sutton and Son's Antiques. It's hard to put into words exactly what a pet does for a place, but it's something good. That's undoubtedly why Gabby the weimaraner spends her days at Scott Williamson Realty a few doors down, and the graphics department at The Mountaineer has its own school of fish (Gil Sans, Lobster, Finn, Olaf and Rockwell).
The funny thing is that these animals seem to connect with just about everyone, even those who would never own them.
Just ask the cats. There are at least two shop cats downtown, and they have a way of charming all who walk through the door — and not just the "cat people." At Animal Hospital of Waynesville on Depot Street, Carmela the kitty splits her time between luxuriating on various employee jackets, exploring the halls and accidentally hanging up on people. Receptionist Susan Bishop explained that every so often she has to tell customers that the silky, long-haired rescue cat accidentally stepped on the phone receiver or deleted something important on the computer. They always understand.
"She's wonderful," Bishop said. "She's very helpful."
She always greets everyone and their pets, Bishop went on, adding that Carmela sometimes even says hi to creatures she shouldn't. Often, when the office is fostering a litter of kittens from the animal shelter, Carmela will steal their food. So, she definitely adds a bit of unpredictably to Bishop's day, but Bishop talks about Carmela like she wouldn't have it any other way.
"Oh, she's definitely a positive effect," she said.
It's an effect Jan Ernst of Smoky Mountain Quilts discovered years ago when she moved her business, and her cat Stubby, to North Main Street. Her fat, black-and-white manx quickly became a resident celebrity.
"And everybody loved him," Ernst said. "Everyone came in the store to see him."
Stubby sadly died in 2012, but the torch has been passed to a new cat, 2-and-half-year-old Layla. While Ernst clearly still mourns her previous kitty, she knew she had to move on and get a new fiber-loving feline. As she and so many local shopkeepers know, stores just feel friendlier with a furry friend inside.
And besides, Ernst stressed, Layla is such a "good kitty."
"Yes, you are," she said, directly to the cat, as it looked up at her quizzically. "You're the perfect store kitty."
Does your Haywood County business have a pet mascot? The Mountaineer is currently running a photo contest for store pets on its Facebook page. Please send pictures to firstname.lastname@example.org. Be sure to include your name and your pet's name.