One might say that Heartfelt in Linden Hills was running at max cuteness already, what with the hand-carved toys, whimsical craft supplies and imaginative seasonal window displays. So when owner Lisa Macmartin got a new pup named Zorro and started bringing him into the store, the cuteness level veered dangerously close to a Code Red, Level 10, Adorable Explosion. And when little stories called “The Zorro Chronicles,” written from the wee pup’s perspective, started appearing on the store’s windows and online (sample passage: “I have been enjoying greeting everyone, especially those people carrying packages from [neighboring meat shop] Clancey’s”), well, hug your family and grab a tissue, because that is some powerful Cute with a capital “C.” Need more Zorro? Read on.
Sidewalk Dog: Can you give us some background on your store?
Lisa Macmartin: I was a part owner of Wonderment, a natural toy store with two locations (Linden Hills & Grand Ave.) Wonderment closed last February, a victim of bad timing (opening the second store just as the recession hit) and declining sales. I pondered what I wanted to do next and soon realized that I was not ready to stop, that I still wanted to be a retailer. I asked the Linden Hills landlord if he would hold the store vacated by Wonderment for a few weeks so I could try to arrange financing. I called everyone I knew and ended up with 13 lenders (friends, family, community members) who staked me with loans of varying sizes. It was truly community financing. I scrambled to paint, fixture and stock the store; I opened as Heartfelt the last day of April 2011, just two months after Wonderment closed.
I have always loved crafting and that is a big focus for me in my new business. Heartfelt is a unique shop offering natural gifts, toys, art and craft supplies, classes and birthday parties. I believe in nurturing myself and others through creativity and personal connection.
SD: Tell us about Zorro.
LM: Zorro is almost four months old. He is a Border Collie. My husband and I had three aging Border Collies; then sadly, the oldest, Rocket, died in January. It was time to add another pup to our pack so we chose Zorro, purchasing him from a small in home breeder just east of Chicago.
SD: How long has Heartfelt had a shop dog?
LM: Zorro has come to the shop with me since the day after we adopted him at eight weeks of age.
SD: Do you let other dogs in the store?
LM: Absolutely, we welcome dogs at Heartfelt! In fact, being a dog lover is part of the job description for my staff. We always have our biscuit jar ready for our canine friends.
SD: What do pet owners generally buy in your store?
LM: Some don’t buy anything; they are just grateful to have a place to come where their dog is welcomed. Others are regular clients who bring their dogs to visit on occasion.
SD: How does Zorro react to the customers? How do the customers react to him?
LM: When Zorro was first at the store, he was just a baby so he napped a lot. He is very friendly with adults and children and with other dogs as well. Being in the shop has socialized Zorro very effectively!
SD: What do you like about having a shop dog? Are there any frustrating moments?
LM: While I mostly love having him in the store, I learned quickly to leave him at home most Saturdays. It’s our busiest day of the week, often with one or two birthday parties and multiple classes. Adding a puppy to that mix added a level of mayhem that I found stressful! Recently, after happily being in the store for many weeks, Zorro has begun barking at the door. He wants to tour the neighborhood, apparently. So, he spends much less time in the store right now, until we can train him not to bark.
SD: How’s the training going?
LM: I have just made contact with Jean Atwood from Bark Busters. We hope to begin working with her to help Zorro to become the ultimate shop dog. She will come to our home and to the store, to help us train Zorro in his real environments. She does not use food rewards for training; I am intrigued and excited to learn more about it!
SD: Do you think having a shop dog draws people to patronize your store?
LM: Absolutely, particularly as a puppy. He has a real following and is missed by many when he stays home. Even if Zorro’s friends don’t buy anything at first, we have become a regular stop for them and eventually they will need a gift or toy and will become customers. And even if they don’t, I love providing a space where people can gather and celebrate our mutual love of dogs.
SD: Anything else you’d like to add about having a shop dog?
LM: Having Zorro at the store has personalized my relationships with my customers. He is part of my family and so they know a little bit more about me than they did before. Also, he is wonderful company and so darn cute that I get to hug him multiple times a day. Life is better with dogs!