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Long, 30, moved to LA in 2016, with her then eight-month-old Pit Bull puppy, Shakespeare, in tow. She had just graduated from college with a degree in social work and was struggling to find a job. While scouring Craigslist for work one day, she saw that the pet store down the street from her house was hiring. She went in for an interview, got hired as a retail employee, and was promoted to manager a year and a half later. Two months after that, the owners told her they wanted to retire and asked if she wanted to take over the business.
“I don’t think they expected me to take them up on it,” Long says with a laugh as she recalls the moment. “But I did. It was definitely very serendipitous.”
Learning on the Fly
At just 25, Long was suddenly a business owner in charge of managing things like licenses, balance sheets, and payroll taxes. But she adapted quickly and put her stamp on the store. In addition to healthy food, treats, and supplements, Pet Project LA offers a range of stylish pet beds, toys, accessories, and clothes. Long loves fashion — fun products and bright patterns — and the store’s pet apparel is chic enough to make one envy the small French Bulldog modeling the Saint Rue Violette Terry Cloth Pet Shirt on the site, for example.
“I really like different patterns — checkered pattern, leopard print. Any animal print, really,” Long says. “And we have a lot of different brands that will make their own prints.”
Pet Project LA sources products from small brands from all over the world. When searching for products, Long says she looks for “anything fashionable” and is increasingly interested in finding brands committed to sustainability, though she says that’s still a challenge, particularly when it comes to pet accessories.
“A lot of the pet food, treats, and home accessory brands will do that, but for accessories it’s still harder to find,” she adds. “So, I am trying to find brands that use materials that are more [eco] friendly or that are recycling or doing things like that.”
Only the Best For the Pets of LA
This commitment to high-quality materials is particularly important because, as Long puts it, people in LA treat their pets like their babies. “I definitely feel like, in LA, the norm is treating your pet like your child,” she says. “You want to take them everywhere and take a selfie with your pet and put it on Insta. They’re your best friends who are your number one.”
Downtown LA, where Pet Project LA is located, has a particularly vibrant pet community, Long says, and the store has become a gathering place for its many regulars. One customer has been coming since the store opened 12 years ago.
“There’s so many regulars, and they’re all so amazing, and their pets are so amazing. I want to be all of their best friends!” Long says. “The customers will tell us personal things, and it’s like we’re the pet store slash therapy session of the neighborhood. We all care about each other, and I think that’s apparent.”
Keeping Things Inclusive
Long has fostered this sense of community and openness by prioritizing inclusivity, both in terms of welcoming any and all customers, and by being careful to use inclusive language in Pet Project’s blogs and marketing materials. “The main thing is that we welcome anyone into our store with open arms,” Long says. “We’re really trying to be kind and good to everyone, every type of person. That’s why we’re loved by the community, and we love the community.”
The community particularly loves Long’s pups, Shakespeare the Pit Bull, and Paco, the Chihuahua. The two regularly test out products, though Long admits that they’re not picky at all, and will “literally eat anything.” Shakespeare especially has become a staple at the store, and if he’s not around, customers will ask where he is. “During the pandemic, I was alone in the store a lot, so it was just me and Shakespeare helping people out,” Long remembers.
That a pet store has become such a warm, open place for the community to congregate makes sense, Long thinks, given what a healing and supportive presence pets can be in people’s lives. “Both of my babies are listed as my emotional support animals,” she adds. “So, I’m a huge advocate of, if you need a buddy, a pet is a great buddy to have.”
A Rescue-Forward Future
Both Shakespeare and Paco are rescues, and as Pet Project LA continues to grow and expand, Long hopes to have room to partner with rescue groups around the city and host adoption events at the store. Until then, she says, the store accepts in-kind donations from customers to be distributed to shelters. In fact, on the day we talk, a shelter representative is coming to pick up a cart of food, treats, and harnesses that customers had donated.
“Rescue is definitely very important to me,” Long explains. “I had parents who instilled that in me at a very young age. If you follow as many shelters as I do on Instagram, it’s such a nightmare right now. They’re just so crowded. Rescue is the only way to go, in my eyes.”
This is just the beginning for Pet Project LA. Long says that in addition to growing the current retail space, the store will be able to expand to more locations around the city in the next five years. She says to watch this space: “Stay tuned.”
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Madeleine Aggeler is a freelance journalist and copywriter in Washington, D.C. Previously, she was a writer at New York magazine’s The Cut. She lives with her dog, Cleo, who works primarily as a foot warmer.