Fiona, left, and Sparkle are all geared up for the opening of Fido & Stitch in the Monroe North Business District. Courtesy Fido & Stitch
When Alli McDonough moved back to Grand Rapids from Chicago, she noticed something was missing.
Retail dog boutiques were plentiful in Chicago and even in some small West Michigan communities such as Saugatuck and Grand Haven, but Grand Rapids lacked a small specialty dog store.
As she was finishing her MBA at Davenport University and thinking of starting a business, McDonough decided to merge her love of dogs and the entrepreneurial itch. Seeing a market opportunity, she decided to launch a “canine boutique salon” called Fido & Stitch and began looking for a retail site.
Her dogs, a Chihuahua mix named Sparkle and a Labrador/golden retriever mix called Fiona, are surely happy with her decision.
Working with Matt Franko from M Retail Solutions, McDonough found a location in the 616 Lofts on Monroe development at 820 Monroe Ave. NW. The four-story, $22 million renovation project has 85 one- and two-bedroom apartments and 40,000 square feet of retail space on the ground floor.
She’s aiming for an early November opening, and has given notice at Beene Garter where she works as an administrative specialist.
The North Monroe area wasn’t on McDonough’s radar in her original business plan, but after further research, she decided the area was a prime market for her concept.
Franko said originally McDonough was looking at spaces in the East Hills and Plainfield Avenue neighborhoods, but the growing residential area of North Monroe fit the concept, noting 616 Development projects promote a sense of community and allow dogs.
“The prospect of retail is really growing in the downtown area,” Franko said. “People seem to not want to go out to the malls anymore. They’d rather say, ‘Let’s walk down the street.’
“Her business just really sits well with the concept of the development, which is helping that neighborhood become more walkable and residential.”
The apartment and condominium residents who have dogs will need dog food, accessories and a place to wash their pets. McDonough said it seems likely a lot of pet owners won’t want to wash a dog in a small living space.
She said her boutique will have a professional groomer on site, but there also will be a space for owners to wash dogs on their own.
The 1,500-square-foot shop will carry almost everything a dog owner would find at a big-box pet store, McDonough said.
“The retail will be similar, but more specialty products,” she said. “So many dogs now have special diet needs,” she added.
Included in the products at Fido & Stitch will be a variety of natural and holistic dog foods, and “fun” accessories, collars and leashes.
McDonough said the products, especially items such as toys, will be rotated on a regular basis to make sure the owners and their pets — who are welcome in the store — always find something new and interesting.
Many of the products are made by Michigan-based companies. She said almost everything in the store will be made in the United States.
The diverse array of products is crucial to hitting a population more dedicated to their pets than ever, McDonough said. She said for people in their 20s and 30s who are putting off having children, or for empty-nesters who are missing theirs, focusing on making their pets happy is important.
McDonough said Sparkle and Fiona are living a great life.
“For so many people, the pets are their kids, and their happiness is a priority,” she said.
In her original business plan, McDonough planned on offering a doggy daycare and boarding service, but with the small footprint at 820 Monroe, that idea had to be scrapped — at least for now.
She said there’s a possibility of starting a walking service because of the large amount of close quarters without yards in the area.
Aware that her priority now is to get the first store up and running, McDonough still is looking to the future, when she hopes to open more shops — hopefully, with daycare options — in Greater Grand Rapids suburban areas such as East Grand Rapids and Ada in the next five to 10 years.
“That’s more long-term,” she said.