BLOOMINGTON — For animal lovers, walking into a business and being greeted by a friendly cat or dog can instantly make the visit worthwhile, even if nothing was purchased.
Some brick-and-mortar retailers might find a competitive edge in their four-legged associates. After all, online shopping doesn’t offer the sight of wagging tails or the opportunity to run your hands through soft fur as you browse. And for business owners, who could imagine a more devoted employee — and one willing to do almost anything for the low price of scritches?
Interest in pet-friendly workplaces is growing nationwide, particularly as companies that turned to remote work during the height of the pandemic now look to lure employees back to the office. A survey conducted last year by Banfield Pet Hospital, owned by Mars Inc., showed that 57% of the 1,500 pet owners polled said they would be happiest returning to a pet-friendly workplace. Half of the 500 top executives surveyed said they planned to allow pets at the office.
Locally, this topic is a popular one. More than 100 members of a Bloomington-Normal Facebook group reacted to a Pantagraph reporter’s recent post seeking people with pets in their workplaces.
Whether it’s Wink at Gingerbread House Toys or Murph at Waiting Room Records, here are just a few of the McLean County businesses where you can meet a new furry friend.
ETC Shoppes & Storage
Anyone who has walked recently through the front door of ETC Shoppes & Storage, 1804 N. Towanda Barnes Rd., Bloomington, has been greeted with a quick yip and sniff from shop dog Gunner “Gunny” Alexander.
Karen Wingo said she founded the shop in November 2020, primarily selling home décor, furniture, antiques and jewelry, as well as acting as storage facility for recreational vehicles or boats.
Four months ago, Wingo adopted Gunny — a mix between a Havanese and a Coton de Tulear, called a Havaton — from the Minneapolis–Saint Paul area when he was just 6 months old.
At first, Gunny was scared of almost everything and everyone around him. Wingo bought a holder for infant children and carried him everywhere she went until he would go on his own.
“He’s got beds all over the shop and he has a run of this place, which is 8,000 square feet,” Wingo said. “He just runs through here and goes wild, but the funny thing is that he really doesn’t mess with any of the items or furniture.”
Wingo said Gunny has plenty of friends, ranging from kids who like to sit with him while their parents shop or elderly couples who call ahead to check and see if he is at the shop.
“I started coming here right after (Wingo) opened, but have been coming back every other week to see Gunner,” said Anna Jean Winn, who was at the shop Thursday with her daughter-in-law Elizabeth Ballinger. “It’s always exciting to see him greet us at the door.”
Gingerbread House Toys
At first glance, many people who go to Gingerbread House Toys, 915 E. Washington St. in Bloomington, for the first time might think the big, fluffy dog laying on the floor is an oversized stuffed animal — until he gets up to greet them.
“One of the biggest reactions we get is that people think he’s fake,” said Kate Greene, co-owner of Gingerbread House Toys. “He’ll just be laying there, and if he’s groomed well and moves for just a second, he can scare people.”
Shop dog Wink is a shepadoodle — a mix between a shepherd and a poodle — who has been coming to the store every day since Greene bought him as a puppy seven years ago.
Greene, who took over the half-a-century-old shop in 2012 with her sisters Nikki and Beki Greene, said Wink is a calm dog who never barks. And, because of his poodle side, he has hair instead of fur, making him approachable even for people allergic to dogs or pet fur.
“I mean, he’s definitely a big plus to the shop,” said employee Michaela Walden. “If you’re having a bad day, there’s Wink. He is always here and he is always sweet. We love him.”
The store has even created the Wink Alliance, through which the store partners with nonprofit organizations that help encourage the growth and development of children across Bloomington-Normal. Each time they partner with a new organization, the store creates a new custom Wink stuffed animal and sells them for $25 each, raising awareness and funds for the nonprofit, Greene said.
Waiting Room Records
Walking into Waiting Room Records, 113 W. North St. in Normal, customers can probably go through the shop’s entire collection of vinyl records and compact discs before seeing tabby cat Murph taking a nap in the record crates.
“When people see a cat, they usually leave if they’re allergic, but most people tend to stay and play with her,” said owner Jared Alcorn. “My favorite is when a guy with tattoos across his face and arms walks in and yells ‘Kitty!’ and starts to play with her.”
Murph is one of four cats Waiting Room Records has had since opening in 2004. Their first cat, a black and white Maine coon named Truck, has been immortalized in the shop’s logo ever since, Alcorn said.
“I think that she helps bring in a lot of customers who end up coming back once they see her,” said Maddie Chaudron, product and marketing manager at Waiting Room Records. “It’s great working in the record store, but Murph helps the day go by a little faster, and it’s always nice to end the day with a few pets before going home.”
Alcorn said Murph is good with customers and especially kids, but like most cats, if she gets too much attention, she will simply get up and find another spot to relax. In the summer, she likes to sit near the front door, waiting for something to move so she can try to catch it.
Alcorn said they’ve had cats in the store for so long, he can’t imagine the business without one. Sometimes, he adds, customers will even carry Murph while they shop, until she falls asleep in their arms.
Whether they’re stopping in for fabric supplies or a quilting class, customers at Sewing Studio, 216 Shiner St. in Hudson, are always greeted by poodles Zuko and Sheena.
“I try to be a good advocate for the breed, and they both got their K9 Good Citizen certificates, and they’re not afraid of wheelchairs or walkers or canes, which some of our customers have,” said Vickie Beoletto, who owns the business with her husband Greg. “Within the three years we’ve owned this shop, I’ve only had three customers say that they were nervous about the dogs.”
Beoletto said Zuko, 10, is a retired show ring dog, while 5-year-old Sheena is rescue dog whose whole litter was seized from a hot SUV in Normal almost five years ago.
Now they greet everyone at the front door, sometimes bringing their toys, but they are only allowed to go to work with Beoletto once they finish their breakfast, she said.
When they are not getting spoiled by customers, Beoletto said, the dogs take naps on their beds under a desk in the office. However, she does have to wake them up from time to time to greet customers who drove out to specifically to see them.
“They’re a perfect fit because they don’t shed nearly as much as most dogs, which is perfect for being around fabric all the time, and customers just can’t get enough,” Beoletto said. “By the end of the day and once we get home, they’ll immediately go on the couch and sleep.”