New Willard Square business in South Portland caters to canines
SOUTH PORTLAND — The freshest shopping experience in Willard Square is best enjoyed by creatures on four legs.
“Every dog in the neighborhood knows we are here now," Whole Dog Market owner Richard LeBauve said last week. "We open the door and they can smell us a block away.”
The store at 429 Preble St., next to Willard Scoops ice cream, opened quietly in late May. LeBauve and his wife, Laurel, celebrated the grand opening this week, showing off Maine-made toys and treats, raw foods, a dog washing station and an array of collars and leashes.
The LeBauves, Willard Square residents for 10 years, are convinced a ready-made clientele is on a short leash nearby, and Richard said they want to be at the forefront of changing ideas about pet care.
"People are taking the same philosophy with pets are they are with their own nutrition," he said.
The couple also took their cue and name from stores in Atlanta owned by their daughter, Beth LeBauve.
The business model counts on Willard Square's walkable nature and a large population of dog owners.
As LeBauve talked about the store, a toy poodle named Daisy ambled in, about 15 seconds ahead of her owner, Pillsbury Street resident Joan McGill.
“We kind of have to walk past it,” McGill said as LeBauve reached for some treats for 10-year-old Daisy.
Daisy knew what she wanted – she preferred "carnivore kiss" treats over the duck-flavored ones LeBauve first offered – and McGill said the store is a must-stop on their daily walks.
“I just love the store itself because it is small, and the people are wonderful," she said.
To celebrate the opening, the LeBauves hosted a dog adoption day with Maine Lab Rescue, had half-price dog washes, and hosted a discussion about raw diets for cats and dogs.
LeBauve said there is a growing recognition that raw meats are better for a canine diet than grain-based food, and he stocks frozen, canned and dry cat and dog food that can supplement a pet diet or fully replace mass-produced pet foods.
"Feeding a raw diet is more expensive and does not have convenience of dry food," he noted.
Research on inventory took the LeBauves to one of the world's largest pet expos in Florida last winter, and Beth LeBauve has provided input and a store manager to help get Whole Dog Market up to a trot.
But local sources provide an abundance of products, LeBauve said. For example, Mutt Nose Best shampoos are made in Bangor, and biscuits and treats from the Maine Dog Bakery are made in Biddeford.
Other items reveal a certain sense of whimsy, such as peanut butter and banana biscuits, called The Elvis, from Bocce Bakery in New York City.
Canine care goes beyond gastronomy at Whole Dog market, with Maine-made collars and vests, and customized leashes to better suit a dog's walking style.
“It has been a lot of fun," LeBauve said. “Everyone coming in here is coming in for something special. Their dogs and cats are so important to them, you can establish a connection.”