Inquirer: Dogs call for a neighborhood in change

At Orianna Hill Park in Northern Liberties, Basil is petted by owners Lisa Lee, center, and Scott Nealy as Marie Barnes watches. As the neighborhood has become trendier, the pets have proliferated. (RON TARVER / Inquirer Photographer)
At Orianna Hill Park in Northern Liberties, Basil is petted by owners Lisa Lee, center, and Scott Nealy as Marie Barnes watches. As the neighborhood has become trendier, the pets have proliferated. (RON TARVER / Inquirer Photographer)

Why an influx of dogs are often a sign of a neighborhood in change is the focus of my story for the Style & Soul section of today’s Inquirer.

Dogs may not have caused Northern Liberties to change from blighted to trendy, but they sure were a sign that change was coming.

Twenty years ago, when Frances Robb first moved to the neighborhood north of Old City, dogs were about as rare as a parked BMW. But as Northern Liberties went from edgy to trendy, the canine pack grew. Read the rest here.

Read the full story, comment and then come back for what didn’t make it in.

Robin Broughton-Smith, owner Wag N Style in East Falls

  • Broughton-Smith moved from Old City with her husband and bought their house in East Falls at the end of last April. They are still learning the feel of the house and neighborhood.
  • There are people here who follow trend and who love their dogs.
  • There are young couples with small children and dogs who want things for their dogs and their children, at the same level.
  • Broughton-Smith’s dog is a Habanese named Roxy. She got her for Christmas five years ago in December 2003.
  • Robin Broughton-Smith is one of those people who take her dog-care very seriously.
  • “To get my dog groomed, I literally would drive miles, hours to get her groomed, like she is a child going to see a specialist. I have babysitters for my dog. I definitely treat my dog like a person.”
  • She is opening an eco-friendly, pet boutique with lots of healthy foods and treats.
  • Wag N Style is on Midvale Street, just off Ridge Avenue and across from Johnny Manana’s, part of an East Falls restaurant scene that might likely use a shopping district.
  • “The pet industry has changed and broadened so much. People are seeing these things are offered, especially for the dogs, and they want to join in.”
  • She is an accountant and her husband works for the state department.
  • They will use family members to help run the story, which they hope to open May 16.
  • “There’s so much offered for pets now, especially dogs. There are people who go to PetSmart and think that’s all that’s there, but we can broaden those horizons,” Broughton-Smith said.

Frances Robb, co-owner of Canine Couture in Northern Liberties

  • “When I first got to Northern Liberties it was like ‘Good Morning Vietnam.’ It wasn’t exactly the most desirable place to be, but it had this fabulous old Ukrainian element still.”
  • She and her friend launched Canine Couture in 1996.”There are two groups who always seem to be dog owners, younger people who might be newly married — they have the kid and the dog — and then the empty-nesters,” said Robb. “Those young people are also some of the first people to live in a changing neighborhood just because it’s affordable. They all seem to have dogs now… so shops follow them. The empty-nesters come later and bring stability.”
  • It’s really nice in many ways that it has become gentrified, but on the other hand you kind of miss that other element. That whole more eclectic group. I came into one neighborhood 20 years ago and now I’ve ended up with BMWs parked on the street.”
  • “There’s a certain loss, when it becomes yuppier.” There is a different feeling. Some of it is very positive, some of the dog population has been growing with it. A few years ago I was stunned to see five or six in a block, but in the last five years, fairly recently, it seems overnight there are a gazillion.”
  • In December 2005, Doggie World Day Care at Third and Poplar streets had a pit bull  left outside its doors. Robb alerted the doggie daycare center and a new resident was happy to take the pup in — even after they found he was blind. The new owner named him Stevie Wonder, and now, Robb says, they are an inseparable part of a new Northern Liberties.
  • “Years before that, if you think there was anyone living in Northern Liberties was willing to just take in a dog, particularly a pit bull, then you’re crazy. This is a dog neighborhood now.”
  • I am astounded at the number of dogs walking in Oriena Park.
  • “The empty-nesters who come in have more disposable income, and they’re replacing their children with dogs, so some of these people are way over the top. These people are moving back to the city in the neighborhoods that the young people have already made feel safe again. They want to be in a neighborhood again with restaurants and places to walk. Northern Liberties has those things now. And lots of dogs.”
  • Robb says though she saw more and more dogs during the years, there has been a real explosion in the last five years. She pointed to another crush of new homeowners and the “bazillion apartments” that noted NoLibs developer Bart Blatstein has brought along the 2nd Street district. But Chic Petique was the first,the real anchor of Liberties Walk.”
  • “Ten or twelve years ago, you could have bought a house for $50 or $60,000. That’s not so anymore.”
  • “The faces get younger and they often have a leash with something attached to it.”
    “We see dogwalkers in Northern Liberties now.”
  • “You get younger people who are first time home buyers who want to live in a certain type of neighborhood. That spot a few years ago was Old City after Society Hill got too expensive. Then, Old City was out of reach, so Northern Liberties became that place,” Frances Robb said. “A house was built across the street from me — it was for $800,000 — so it’s happening elsewhere now.”
  • Robb said: “They all make it seem safer and then those empty-nesters can come in, with a dog who is replacing their kid.”

Kristoffer Reiter, District Manager of Doggie style

  • “We are looking at a lot of upcoming areas.”
  • “A Doggie Style store should be a neighborhood store, just like a grocery store. At a doggie boutique, you’re buying things like you would at a grocery story. Our customers come every week.
  • When an area grows up and becomes stable, that’s where we want to be. People taking care of their houses, the streets are clean.
  • “Our two landmark locations are largely used by tourists.”
  • “We don’t believe in big box like Pet Co or PetSmart.”
  • “We’re dealing with the problem of any young [franchise], wondering how close can you be without hurting the business of an existing store.”
  • The people who come to a pet boutique come for their passion for their pets
  • While Northern Liberties is too close to their Old City location, Fishtown might not be.
  • “Right now Fishtown is still a high risk. When we have condo owners in their 20s and 30s with no kids — they have pets with double incomes — that’s interesting to us.”

David Elesh, Temple University sociology professor

  • “Fewer people are marrying or are delaying marriage, when they do, they’re having fewer children, but people are still desirous of companionship,” said David Elesh, a Temple University sociology professor who studies urban neighborhood trends. “Pets offer the ability to have companionship but be less demanding than a children or even a spouse.”
  • “Our society is have fewer and fewer children, the only population subgroup above net return rate is Hispanics. Seventy percent of women are now working, that’s less time to devote to families, so, yes, there are fewer and fewer traditional families in the United States, that’s particularly so in cities.”
  • “Traditional methods of companionship through marriage and children is diminishing, and a dog or another pet is not unlike the commitment of a child.”
  • “Higher end pet shops show people have a desire to endow those pets with a great deal of time and money for appearances.”
  • “New breeds of dogs are being introduced that require less care, bred with poodles who won’t shed. “That’s tailoring the dogs to the lifestyle.
  • “The interest in exotic pets show a conspicuous display, showing I can get and care for this exotic pet.”
  • Young professionals and empty nesters – often early adopters to growing city communities – give their new homes a try with furry companions.

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  • There are any number of indicators of a neighborhood in change, but none seem to define a success better than the first high-end boutique. In recent years, the United States has seen a pet craze. Now, often the first boutique that can survive in a changing neighborhood is a pet boutique, brought there by a crush of new residents, dogs in tow.
  • The change is that the young people who are often the first new residents in a changing neighborhood are also delaying marriage, children and other serious relationships and getting a dog instead, Elesh said. You can spot the young people poised to flip a neighborhood by the leashes in their hands. Then, once the first retailer moves in to serve this most present and newest neighborhood demographic, the inevitable onrush of retail and nightlife seems almost destined.
  • Northern Liberties flew from blight to working class to hipster heaven to full-blown, trendy nightlife destination.