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Pets in the City

Jamie Judson moved her suburban dog boutique into downtown Detroit, evolving to meet the needs and enrich the lives of urban pets and their people.




City Bark, Detroit, MI

OWNER: Jamie Judson; URL:; FACEBOOK:; INSTAGRAM:; FOUNDED: 2014; locations: 1; AREA: 1,200 square feet; TOP BRANDS: Cloud Star, Happy Howie’s, Weruva, Fussie Cat, Redbarn, Pure Vita, Carhartt, Benebone, Fluff & Tuff, Earth Animal, Fromm, Bocce’s, Haute Diggity Dog, Pet Relaf, Zippy Paws, Worthy Dog, FabDog, Earthrated; EMPLOYEES: 2 full-time, 2 part-time

Jamie Judson

Jamie Judson

IN 2014, JAMIE JUDSON opened City Bark in Grosse Pointe, MI. The pet boutique offered a curated selection of unique accessories, gifts, home decor and locally made treats. As nearby Detroit began making a resurgence, Judson started to explore the idea of moving her home and business to the city.

“Every time I went downtown, there were new buildings, new restaurants and new businesses. It was so exciting,” she says. “I knew I needed to be a part of it. City residents were having to take their pets to the suburbs, 15-plus miles away, for high-quality food, veterinary care and grooming services.”

Congratulations From One of Your Top-Selling Brands

Judson settled on Capitol Park historic district to live and work. She then made a list of every apartment building within a five mile radius of an available storefront and called to ask if they were pet friendly, their number of units and the percentage of pets. By her calculations, there were 3,000 dogs and cats living within one mile — and that didn’t account for those in condos and houses.

In 2017, City Bark became downtown Detroit’s first pet-supply store, with Judson ever-adapting her business to suit its location and find continued success.

Creative Planning

Located on The Albert apartment building’s ground floor, City Bark makes excellent use of its 1,200 square feet, overcoming challenges of the typical retail space found downtown: narrow and long.

“We’ve had to get crafty with not only merchandising, but with storage as well,” Judson says. “Luckily our ceilings are tall, so our first purchase was 12-foot-tall pallet shelving. We are able to use the entire top of these to store out-of-season products, holiday decor, etc.”

Baskets and bins on tabletops plus additional shelving also maximize square footage, as do hot pink industrial piping and pegs on turf-covered walls. To meet the needs of city residents, Judson has evolved product offerings beyond boutique with dog and cat food, litter and other convenience items. The store hosts vaccination clinics, training classes and adoption events, too.

In 2020, Judson added grooming and self-wash to its menu of services with help from a $50,000 grant she won through pitch competition Rocket Mortgage Detroit Demo Day. Local architect and light artist Patrick Ethen transformed 350 square feet at the back of the store.

“We wanted a space that was calm like a spa, but still fun, inviting and unlike any other salon or self-wash that we’ve seen,” Judson says.

The resulting room features a retro-futuristic, economical design with tub, table and dryer. LC’s Detroit Pet Salon rents the space, bringing in additional equipment for appointments, and customers can use the room as a self-wash during non-salon hours. Thanks to the need for these services and the surge of pandemic pets, grooming now makes up about 20% of City Bark’s overall income, with self-wash at 5%. It has contributed to the store reaching an overall 45% increase since the move. Judson also rents the room to a pet massage therapist to further expand offerings.

The design by local architect and light artist Patrick Ethen gives the grooming and self-wash room at City Bark a spa aesthetic

The design by local architect and light artist Patrick Ethen gives the grooming and self-wash room at City Bark a spa aesthetic.

Hyperlocal Marketing

While City Bark benefits from steady foot traffic thanks to its prime location, Judson makes sure to reach area pet owners who may not naturally pass by. She does so by going to their homes — once a week, staff host a pop-up at one of the 50 pet-friendly apartment buildings within five miles. They meet with residents, pass out samples and treats, and share information about services. Coupons and free-delivery codes allow for ROI tracking.

“We’ve had people walk over to our store to check it out while the event is still happening,” Judson says, adding. “We typically see new delivery customers within the week.”

Staff deliver within 10 miles on Tuesday and Saturday, and DoorDash fulfills orders daily.

“Most customers will choose the City Bark delivery option. However, when that isn’t possible, DoorDash allows them to patronize our business rather than order from a big-box store. It’s also great advertising, as we’ve seen those who originally found us on DoorDash turn into regular in-store customers.”


Frequent Shoppers

Because so many customers live in the immediate area without access to a yard, they have a dog-walking route with City Bark and the nearby dog park on it for both practical purposes and enrichment. Judson offers products and events with that in mind.

“We want them to come in and visit, but stopping in three to five times a week can add up. We’ve designed our treat bar so customers can spend anywhere from 50 cents to $15. We also offer single tennis balls, poop bags and smaller bags of treats. Dogs still get a treat or toy every time, and customers are happy about their wallets,” she says, adding that the store takes Apple Pay, Google Pay and Venmo to make checking out quick and easy with just a phone.

Special events also encourage visits. Every fall, Judson hires a photographer to shoot customer dogs in winter and holiday apparel before City Bark opens. This creates value for all in multiple ways.

“We offer each model 15% off their purchase. Sales are great during those hours, and we have photos that can be used throughout the season,” she says. “We use them on social media and in email blasts for months to come. We give the photos to pet owners, and they share them across social media and tag us. We also incorporate the photos into our window displays for the season. Pet owners come down to see the window, bring their friends and families, take photos of the dogs in front of the display, and then share the photo on social media again. They usually come in and make a purchase, and they introduce their family and friends to the store.”

Cute photos. Happy customers. Social media and display photos for months. Check check and check.

Cute photos. Happy customers. Social media and display photos for months. Check check and check.

Small Business Associations

In addition to partnering on services, City Bark carries products made by small local businesses. “We bring in many of the items on a consignment trial. It gives us the opportunity to try all sorts of products we might not have thought of offering before, like a children’s book written by a customer about her dog,” Judson says. “These businesses are promoting us, too, so we reach customers that we might not have connected with otherwise.” And those customers join the many throughout downtown Detroit who can now shop local instead of traveling 15-plus miles to find the pet products and services they need, thanks to City Bark.


Five Cool Things About City Bark

1. STORE BIRD: City Bark may cater to dogs and cats, but Cleo the Cockatoo reigns from her perch. This 31-year-old rescue has become a bit of a local celebrity, with people stopping by just to say hello to Cleo.

2. REWARD TIME: In addition to offering Astro, customers can sign up for the store’s rewards program. They earn one point for every $1 spent and can redeem for discounts as well as free fro-yo, treats and baths.

3. GIVING BACK: City Bark holds in-store adoption events for and donates supplies to several local animal rescues, including Rebel Dogs Detroit and Detroit Community Cat Rescue. Customers can donate their loyalty points to these organizations, and foster parents are encouraged to use the self-wash for free.

4. OFFICE SPACE: In addition to designing the salon, Patrick Ethen turned the hallway that connects the checkout area with the storage space into a permanent workstation for Judson and staff, something they hadn’t had since the move from Grosse Pointe.

5. CITY BARK AFTER DARK: This monthly after-hours social event features an activity customers can do with their dogs, like tie-dying a bandana or screen-printing Valentines. Judson limits most events to 12 attendees, providing enough space for dogs to mingle off-leash with their people.




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