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Couple creates hub for pets and their people within redeveloped urban area.

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Riverfront Pets, Wilmington, DE

OWNERS: Laura and Clinton Gangloff; URL:abbyriverfrontpets.com; OPENED FEATURED STORE: 2017; EMPLOYEES: 4 full-time, 4 part-time; AREA: 2,571 square feet; FACEBOOK: RiverfrontPets; INSTAGRAM: riverfrontpets


Laura and Clinton Gangloff

Laura and Clinton Gangloff opted for second careers as pet business owners over retiring to the beach. Their community is glad they did!

AS LAURA AND Clinton Gangloff were approaching retirement, they asked each other: “Do you want to get a condo in Florida or open a pet store?” Thankfully for the dogs and cats of Wilmington, DE, they chose the second option.

“If we had gotten the condo, I don’t know what I would have done with myself,” Laura says. “The store was a much better idea, the neighborhood needed it, and we have really enjoyed doing this together.”

Laura, whose previous career involved working with autistic students in public schools, and Clinton, who most recently owned an employment agency that helped place adults with disabilities, opened Riverfront Pets in 2017.

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Industrial Appeal

The couple and their dogs, Bruce and Fitz, had downsized in 2013 to a townhouse in Riverfront Wilmington, a successful redevelopment area.

“We noticed that, like ourselves, a lot of our neighbors were pet owners — turns out, nearly 70 percent,” Laura says, quoting the manager of the community where they live, which has a total of 600 residential units in mixed-use buildings. “The apartment buildings still had open retail sites, and we thought it would be brilliant to have a destination pet store,” where residents could access supplies and services, and attend educational and social events.

Riverfront Pets sits on a ground floor, with pet parents walking by — or trying to — several times a day on their way to a shared green space.

“The dogs literally stop in front of our store, then drag their owners inside,” Clinton says.

There they find a wide open space with an industrial chic aesthetic to match the transformed factories that make up the community and surrounding neighborhood. Light gray covers the exposed ceiling, walls and floor, with pops of red coming from the statement chandelier and the store’s iconic fire hydrant logo.

Fixtures are modern for the most part, but the couple also worked with local artisan Will Carter to create pieces made from raw wood and metal.

Riverfront Pets self-wash stations

Pet parents can bathe their dogs at Riverfront Pets self-wash stations.

Unexpected Products & Services

Also available at the store are pet beds Carter handcrafts from wine barrels. Laura and Clinton make it a point to carry products from locals alongside those from national and global manufacturers.

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“People here pay very high rents and may work two jobs to make ends meet. They can’t afford luxury items, but they will spend on unique, high-quality functionables at a reasonable price,” Laura explains.

Cat scratchers and raised bowl sets are among the other locally made products available at Riverfront Pets. Services include full dog and cat grooming, self-wash stations, and dog walking and training. Deemed an essential business by the state, the store continues to offer them all with appropriate measures taken, but has, not surprisingly, seen a decline in the latter two. Store trainer Leigh Dempsey recently launched virtual training sessions via Zoom to help the many pets who have been adopted during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Other recent adaptations for residents within their community include free delivery for retail as well as pick-up and drop-off for grooming. They have always enjoyed a 10 percent discount on products.

Riverfront Pets LocalArtisans

Healthy Pets & Employees

Laura and Clinton not only take excellent care of customers and their pets, they also invest heavily in the continued education and well-being of their employees. Staff members attend industry trade and grooming shows, and maintain various certifications such as pet nutrition, first aid and pet CPR. Full-time employees also have access to health benefits.

“Health care is important,” Clinton says. “We support our employees in any way we can because they are more than just employees — they are an integral part of our store.”

PHOTO GALLERY (15 IMAGES)

Five Cool Things About Riverfront Pets

1. STUDENTS, PLEASE APPLY: When hiring, Laura and Clinton Gangloff look first to the University of Delaware Animal Sciences Department. In particular, Clinton says, “We want to differentiate our dog walking services, and someone with that background tends to do better with the training and socializing elements of the role.” Laura adds that such employees also help them to take a more holistic approach to pet care by noticing an unhealthy coat or stools, or a limp.

2. OH, RIPLEY: The newest Gangloff family pup has inspired a window display or two. Most recent was a holiday scene based on his reputation of getting into what he shouldn’t. The display featured dog mannequins getting into presents under the tree. Clinton says their whimsical displays help attract out-of-towners who might not otherwise see a reason to stop at a pet store.

3. PLAY SPACE: Before the pandemic, the couple was working with their landlord to turn the green space next door into a formal dog park. Plans will move forward as soon as possible, and Riverfront Pets will manage and maintain the park as an amenity for community residents, with visitors paying an access fee.

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4. TEST RUN: Also ready to make a comeback when appropriate, the store’s toy testing area allows dogs to do exactly that. “We had examples of all the toys we sell in baskets, and dogs could play with them,” Laura says, adding that it helped determine their play style and chew strength.

5. EVENTS: The Gangloffs also can’t wait to restart their robust event schedule, much of which benefits the Delaware Humane Association. Among the past events are trivia contests, neighborhood picnics, and a prom with a crowned king and queen.

Pamela Mitchell is the Editor-in-Chief of PETS+. She works from her home office in Houston, TX, with Ty the Boston Terrier as her assistant.

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