About 50 people and 12 dogs took to the Winnetka streets Friday to protest the possibility of nationwide pet chain Petco moving into downtown Winnetka.
Angie DeMars, the proprietor of Winnetka’s Noah’s Ark Pet Supply, was one of the organizers. She had demonstrators of both the two-foot and the four-foot variety going through the village before concluding their walk at 714 Elm St., the site of the now vacant building where the Petco may be located. The California-based company has indicated they may be interested in putting an Unleashed by Petco shop at this location, which is more of a boutique style shop for dog owners, as opposed to the traditional design.
The building which has been vacant for at least two years had been the home of Baird & Warner, but that firm moved a couple of blocks west.
One of the marchers was Pam Kasper, who said she's concerned about a big chain dominating the village business. She is also a major client of DeMars.
“They have the right to operate but maybe they could have gone to where a shop was needed,” Kasper said.
DeMars, which has been operating Noah’s Ark since 2002, is concerned about losing business since her shop is close by in downtown Winnetka. But she said there are other issues at stake.
“I realized competitors open up but by opening a Petco, they don’t have wholesalers,” she notes. “They get their own food and suppliers from their own distribution center and they are cutting out the middleman on pricing and it is a Walmart mentality.”
Winnetka, which has been slow to housing big box retailers in the past, is not the place for major chains, according to DeMars.
“I’m concerned about the culture,” she said. “Where does this end? Winnetka is a quaint village and we don’t want to look like all of the other communities.”
But DeMars and Alexandra Nichols, the other organizer may have a difficult task in trying to prevent Petco from coming into town.
Repeated calls to reach Petco officials or New Trier Partners, the owner of the building were not returned. What is known is that representatives of Petco reached out to the village to see if it would have to make any changes to move the retailer in. According to Winnetka Director of Community Development Michael D'Onofrio, there were no variations or zoning changes needed.
Therefore, the village is not in a place to stop the retailer from coming in, even if they wanted to, which does not appear to be the case anyway.
“It is located in a commercial zoning district and in that district it would fall into the definition of a pet shop and that is a permitted use,” D’ Onofrio said. “I understand her concern but we can only apply the laws that are on the books and that type of use is permitted. We do not make a distinction whether the business is locally owned or a national tenant.”
Richard Kates, a member of the village board who also serves as liaison to the Business Community Development Committee, said of the big box concern that a Gap operates in Hubbard Woods and that has been a benefit for other local businesses.
“People can always express themselves and that is always encouraged but that doesn’t mean there is validity in terms of what the village can or should do in the situation,” Kates said.
While watching the protestors go by as he was standing on Elm Street was Mike Ambrose, a college student at William and Mary, who was back in his native Winnetka on vacation.
“I’m all for having new businesses in town and if people want to shop there, they should be able,” he said. “If people don’t want to shop there, they don’t have to.”