Pets Win Hearts In Sag Harbor Shops


Dogs are often said to be man’s best friend, but are they also a business’s best friend?

For some shops in Sag Harbor Village, furry animals accompany their owners to work regularly, log full days at the office, and take their own turns greeting customers—eliciting, arguably, more effusive reactions than their human counterparts.

Whether perched on a counter, resting on the floor or basking in the sun out front, these pets become beloved mascots, indelible parts of their stores’ image.

Henry, a yellow Labrador retriever who joyously greeted patrons at Henry Persan & Sons Hardware on Division Street in Sag Harbor for 12 years until his death last fall, gained celebrity status among locals.

“He was liked more than anyone else in this store,” said clerk Felix McGibbon in a November interview, shortly after the dog died. “No one asked for me, but they always asked for Henry.”

Lee Elliot, the owner of Lee Jewelers on Main Street in Sag Harbor, has had a similar experience with his pets’ popularity. “People would come up not to look at the jewelry, but to ask to visit the puppies,” he said, laughing, during a recent interview. His store moved to its current spot in 2005, but prior to that it was on Southampton Village’s Main Street and known as Lee Gallery.

The venue has changed, but the canines remain. Two standard apricot poodles, Lilly, 13, and her granddaughter, Sandy, 3, are as familiar in the store today as the marine-themed necklaces on display.

“It’s not just shiny things. We have furry things, too,” explained Mr. Elliot’s daughter, Dori, 25, who does beading and wire wraps at the store, as she leaned over to pat the pair.

Lilly—so named because she’s “this sweet, cuddly little flower,” according to Ms. Elliot—has a favorite hangout behind the store safe, with only her nose poking out. For Sandy, named after the dog of the same name in the musical “Annie,” which Ms. Elliot acted in as an elementary school student in Southampton, her favorite spot is in front of the fan or the air conditioner. “She knows exactly where the air hits,” she said, “and that’s where she lies.”

The long-eared and curly haired poodles are credited with attracting customers, particularly children, even those who fear dogs, the Elliots said. And not only are they ace greeters—stepping back if they sense nerves, and grinning a “silly smile” as they approach—they are also worth their weight in gold.

One night, Ms. Elliot recalled, she was alone in the store with the dogs when an ex-boyfriend appeared, making her uneasy. Lilly picked up on her fear and growled at the ex until he left.

Nearby, the Sag Harbor Liquor Store also features pets. Beau, a tiny 10-year-old Shih Tzu, shadows proprietor Bob Schmitz. On Memorial Day this year, Beau sat on the floor behind the counter, wearing an American flag-patterned scarf, matching Mr. Schmitz, who was dressed in a red, white and blue, stars-and-stripes shirt.

Where Mr. Schmitz goes, so goes Beau. “He’s very attentive,” Mr. Schmitz said with a laugh. “He knows what’s going on.” As he spoke, Beau gazed up at him.

Also in the store is the more elusive Tipsy, a tuxedo cat that owes her moniker to a naming contest and slinks quietly past the wine bottles.

For Mr. Schmitz, bringing his pets to the store has benefits. “I think it breaks the ice with a lot of things,” he explained.

It is also a tradition that has been kept up throughout the pet generations. The store used to be home to three old English sheepdogs, Heather, Hannah, Haddie, as well as Honey, a Lhasa Apso. (Mr. Schmitz said he’s partial to the initial letter “H” because that is how all his daughters’ names start—Heidi, Hilary and Hayley. Beau, meanwhile, shares his initial with Mr. Schmitz’s sons, Bill and Bob.)

The liquor store’s pets are not confined to four legs and fur, either. Swimming in a pair of barrels under a waterfall out back are three fish, Blackie, Goldie and Koi.

Having pets at work is like having family close by, a piece of their home, the shop owners explained.

“I bring her in primarily because I can, which is terrific,” explained Amy O’Donnell, the “top banana,” according to her business card, at GeekHampton on Sag Harbor’s Bay Street, of her 1-year-old French bulldog, LuLu.

It was just after 10 a.m. on a recent business day, and Ms. O’Donnell and the baby-faced, stubby-tailed LuLu had just arrived together, as they do most days.

“She’s our Facebook mascot, our social-media baby,” Ms. O’Donnell continued while stroking LuLu’s back.

But even more important, she’s is a litmus test of sorts for potential employees.

“Everyone we interview has to pass the LuLu test,” Ms. O’Donnell said, explaining that candidates must get along with the wide-eyed, fawn-furred animal.

The Frenchie is allowed in the store’s main room, amid the iPhones, iPods, MacBooks, and stuffed pigs and birds from the Angry Birds game, but not when the door is open, because she might run straight through it.

The 19-pounder is young, but she is getting to know her way around. She already knows who is likely to slip her treats and looks forward to walks during the day at nearby Havens Beach. A highlight is when the UPS man arrives, because he—and, by extension, anyone now dressed in all brown—is a signal that snacks are imminent.

“She gets all excited,” Ms O’Donnell said.

Little Lulu is still learning the ropes, though. Sometimes, noted employee Elliot Natale, she likes to pull iPhone cases and other low products from their shelves. “But we catch them early enough,” he added.

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