The reason 2460 Lombard Street in the Marina has been a vacant blight for many years rather than a Pet Food Express (PFE) replete with a $2 million renovation has nothing to do with the neighborhood and everything to do with neighborhood politics. Opponents argued that a “formula retailer” like PFE would take business from two small pet shops on Chestnut Street, but studies have shown most pet owners shop at Safeway, Costco, and online at websites such as Amazon.com. An economic impact report compiled by the city’s Office of Economic Analysis and released last February also concluded that increased restrictions on formula retailers (defined as having more than 11 stores nationwide) will not help grow the local economy nor will it help increase spending by residents. All of this validates what the owners of PFE said all along, but it comes too late for Lombard.
“I have to say the behind-the-scenes political maneuvering that ultimately stopped us from opening on Lombard Street was eye-opening,” says PFE co-owner Michael Levy. “We had partnered with Pets Unlimited to provide a permanent cat adoption center inside our proposed store as well as have adoption events with other shelters and rescues every weekend. Unfortunately a small group of self-interested people was very effective working against us.”
That vocal minority combined with a weak, easily swayed planning commission kept Lombard from getting a PFE twice in four years, but because the company had signed a 10-year lease, it didn’t let them off the hook for the rent.
“I opened my first store in 1980 in San Francisco, and it is disappointing that I am unable to continue to grow PFE in the city where I started,” Levy says. “But the good news is the Marina will still get a much-needed pet supply store that will support pet adoption.” Levy is referring to Wolf & Lion Pet Supplies, a boutique warehouse that now fills the old Blockbuster building.
“Finding the right people to take over this space was very important to us, because we wanted it to fit into the neighborhood’s needs,” Levy says. “Barry Leonard knows the business better than anyone and has served San Francisco pet owners for over two decades. He has teamed up with Spyq Sklar and John Headley, who are both young, smart, hard working, and personable. All three are committed to helping pets get adopted and will be working with local rescues to see that happens. I cannot think of a better combination to run a strong independent pet store.”
Leonard owns Critter Fritters Pet Food & Supplies, which recently celebrated 30 years in Glen Park. “I saw Michael Levy was a good guy when he had the one store,” Leonard says. “Later, when he started to grow, I noticed that it didn’t really affect my business. When he lost out here for the second time, I called him and said I thought I could do a second Critter Fritters, but I worried it was too much at my age. That’s when Michael mentioned Spyq.”
Spyq Sklar is the nephew of PFE co-owner Mark Witriol. “I graduated from UC Santa Cruz with a degree in math and economics and I was working in tech,” Sklar says, stroking the ears of his rescued Labradoodle, Molly, whom he adopted as a companion for his older rescued pointer-pit mix, Sniffer. “I liked it, but I didn’t love it. My company was moving to San Jose, and I didn’t want to do that commute. I grew up with PFE and animals, so this is really my dream job. I brought on my best friend John, who just graduated from UC Berkeley with an economics degree. We met Barry and got along great, and we loved his concept.”
Leonard’s concept is part Critter Fritters, part PFE, and part Pet Club: boutique products and customer service in a stripped down warehouse that allows Wolf & Lion to keep the selection large and the prices low. “You won’t find an upscale look,” says Sklar. “We have open pallets on concrete floors. That’s where you’ll see savings. And we will have tons of products, 30 brands of food to start, and there will be something for every budget. Not everyone can afford top-line food, so we’ll offer high-quality grocery brands as well.”
For the boutique side, Leonard says Wolf & Lion will carry items from artisan producers. “At Critter Fritters, I sell catnip by these two ladies in Oregon — they’re not huge, but they make a living and it’s great catnip. We want to make things better for animals and their people — great products at great prices. And even though the prices will be warehouse, the customer service won’t. We’ll be here to help and answer questions, and if someone wants something specific, we’ll get it for them.”
Like PFE, finding homes for San Francisco’s abandoned animals is a priority for the Wolf & Lion team, and they’re getting help from the best in the business: PFE director of community relations, Mike Murray, who is also the founder and chairman of Golden State German Shepherd Rescue. “We’re committed to adoptions and to the shelter and rescue community,” Sklar says. “With Mike’s help, we will have adoption events here every weekend.”
Levy says he isn’t worried about the competition. “The reality is this new store will take some business from the California Street PFE, but I expect it to be minimal. From our previous research, most pet owners in the Marina are shopping at Safeway or traveling out of the area to Costco or the big-box pet stores. The neighborhood is underserved for pet supplies and really needs a place that offers pet adoptions. This new business will provide both. There are more dogs than children in San Francisco, and there is more demand than supply to meet their needs. I think the neighborhood is going to love it.”