Long live dogs. This is the sentence I saw printed on the side of a box being unloaded from a delivery truck earlier this week.
Indeed. As I write this, four are strewn about my office in various states of canine slumber. And despite their heart attack barking, exuberant mauling of visitors, their consumption of beloved Birkenstocks or the quiche we worked so hard on, regardless of their unwelcome smells and infuriating need to take ages to pee when you take them out in 20 degrees, we love them. Like love love them. And as such, we, their willing caretakers, find ourselves in need of many an item to keep them happy and fed — how wonderful to find a place that has everything we need, and, it seems, loves our pets nearly as much as we do.
Welcome to Essex Bird and Pet Supply. Off to the side, tucked just behind The Mill on Eastern Avenue in Essex sits a small but mighty pet supply store. And inside is everything you need. Not unlike Crosby’s, Essex Pet has a shocking and highly varied number of items in a very small space. It seems that whatever you are looking for is always, kind of remarkably, there. Hemp chews for calming your manic pet, yes. Crickets to feed your bearded dragon, sure. Toys for your African Gray parrot, you bet. It goes on and on. And furthermore, behind the counter you will find two sisters who, together, have an incredible breadth of knowledge, surpassed only by their desire to help you.
Susan Lufkin and Shelly Nicastro always wanted to own a business helping animals. Growing up on a small horse farm in West Gloucester, started by their mother who purchased her first horse when Shelly was just an infant, instilled in them a deep love of animals. They both rode and worked with the horses on the farm. Dogs and cats came and went. Animals were just part of the fabric of their lives. The opportunity to finally have their own business came in 2008 when the local pet store, started in 1978, came up for sale.
When I first began shopping at Essex Pet years ago, one of the sisters (before I could tell them apart) noted that, while she was happy to sell me the food I usually purchased, there was a better-priced option with the same nutritional value, if I was interested; my dogs loved it and I saved a bundle. When I acquired six pet ducks, they ordered the exact food I needed, though they had not carried it previously. And just one year ago, when I changed dog food for all four of my dogs, I chose a brand that I felt was great, but had gotten some bad reviews based on a study that some said was funded by the major pet food brands. I mentioned this to Shelly and she reached beneath the counter to pull out a thick file filled with information about this very topic; I’m not kidding. She not only had and opinion, she had the answer.
I have overheard countless conversations, inquiring about which songbirds prefer which seeds, which toothpastes work best for dogs, if freeze-dried mealworms are better than live, and so on; thoughtful answers are always given. They remember nearly every customer and, more often than not, their lucky pets.
When you ask Susan and Shelly what they love most about having the store, you already know the answer, because you have already felt it; they love their customers. “We have the best customers,” Shelly declares, to which Susan enthusiastically nods. They attribute this to the fact that 99.9% of the folks that walk through the door are animal lovers, like them. Shelly and Susan continue to live locally, next door to one another, and both still have horses and ride. There is an air of independence and capability about the pair; they have no employees. It’s just the two of them. And it works.
So yes, long live dogs. And cats. And chickens, ducks, swans, horses, sheep, goats, parakeets, geckos, and on and on. But also, long live this small family-owned community business that cares. About our beloved, smelly, sometimes annoying, but mostly awesome, pets. And us.
Essex Bird and Pet Supply, 121R Easter Avenue, Essex