Feb. 20, 2006 – With his easy-going attitude and pet care know-how, John Alvarado, owner of Market Square Pet Supply on St. Thomas, gives new meaning to the phrase "service with a smile."
"It's all about the customers," Alvarado says cheerfully, after helping some residents shop for fish supplies on Sunday afternoon. "People respond to you when you're friendly, and so far, we've gotten a good reception from the community, so I hope that will keep us open for quite some time."
Alvarado also made the store's atmosphere more pleasant by dressing casually (that day he opted for a faded red T-shirt and shorts), posting pictures of his dogs Willis and Monty behind the counter, and chatting with shoppers as they lined up at the register to pay for their purchases.
He also took time to answer questions about the business while working on the computer, and he pointed out special order items in catalogues for those who don't find what they were looking for on the shelves.
Not that the store itself is under-stocked. On the contrary, lining all four walls are racks of pet food, collars, how-to books on taking care of pets, mini-aquariums, feeding dishes, rabbit cages, bird feeders and traveling cases for transporting pets.
"Those are really in high demand," Alvarado said of the cases. "People come and go here all the time, so we always have them in stock."
He also pointed out the shelves with bird and fish supplies, which offered a range of items for the amateur fish collector to the large-scale bird keeper.
"Many people down here have fish or birds," Alvarado said. "We brought in these things to keep up with what our customers need, and whatever they don't see here, they can always special order.
"It's a good system, and depending on the item, it doesn't take too long to ship here," he said.
Alvarado keeps up with pet demands of the St. Thomas community by consulting his business partner, Dr. Tripp Stewart, a veterinarian at the Imperial Animal Hospital in Contant, who also helped come up with the idea for the business.
"I have two dogs," Alvarado explained. "And it was hard for me to find a food store for them in the area, so I started thinking about what it would be like to open up a store like this to provide the community with a stable food source for their pets. Tripp also helped grow the business, since he would always come to me and explain the pet needs of his clients."
Alvarado added that because of Stewart's help, the store was able to go from initially selling cat and dog supplies when it opened last November, to a selling a plethora of items for all kinds of pets.
Alvarado said, "It's a unique challenge, opening a pet store, since there are all kinds of pets, and you have to be able to satisfy everyone's needs."
Alvarado, who moved to the territory from Boston four years ago, also has a few other things working to his advantage, including the store's convenient location at Market Square East, in between the movie theater and Cost-U-Less.
Alvarado said he has had experience running a business, and has been "loosely involved in the pet industry in the past."
"I'm kind of also learning as I go," Alvarado said. "I mean, some of these things are common sense, but others I'm just picking up, so it's been fun as well."
When asked what the future holds for Market Square Pet Supply, Alvarado said he plans on holding more events at the store, including "A Day with the Vet," where customers can come in and ask Stewart some questions.
"I hope to do something new once a month, or once every other month," Alvarado said. "We'll see how it goes."
Alvarado hopes to keep the business open for as long as he continues to live on St. Thomas, which he says is "indefinitely."
"When I came here from Boston, I was looking for an adventure, and was only planning on staying two or three years," he said. "But, I've been here for four years now, and it has really started to feel like home, so I don't think we're going anywhere."
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