The combination of a rural country store feel and eclectic merchandise has made Cindra Conison’s The Quirky Pet a cult favorite for dog lovers near and far.
The Quirky Pet has all the homey warmth and rustic atmosphere of a typical Vermont country store, but with a few adjustments. The large aviary, filled with noisy parakeets, or one of the giant Bergamasco dogs lying by the door tends to grab customer’s attention, along with a friendly greeting from owner Cindra Conison.
The 700-square-foot store doesn’t sell any live animals—the birds and dogs are Conison’s pets—instead focusing on unique, made-in-the-USA products for dogs, cats and their people. Inspired by a pet store she and her husband saw while on vacation, Conison opened the shop four years ago in Montpelier, Vt., a small town with about 7,500 residents.
The Quirky Pet’s décor is the result of an image Conison had in mind before starting the business. “My husband and I went to a lot of old country stores in Vermont looking at them while we were trying to figure out how to design the store,” Conison says, describing the store’s woody aesthetic. “The walls now have old barn board on them, there are built-in shelves that are stained a very old color. All of my things are in apple baskets and hanging on trees.”
An old wooden snow shovel just inside the door holds a collection of leashes, while collars hang from a ladder. An antique refrigerator door on the wall displays magnets. “I’m a visual artist, so everything has to do with placement and color,” Conison says. “It’s an adventure in color and texture.”
Conison runs the store almost entirely on her own, with one friend who helps out on Sundays, and she has no desire to expand. The small size of The Quirky, as it is affectionately known, allows her to build relationships with customers and provide them with individual attention. “If a customer asks me a question and I don’t know the answer, we look it up on the computer together,” she says. “There are people who come in every day; children will come in just to see the birds.” And it’s not just locals—tourists who regularly travel to the area for vacation stop by every time they are there, looking to restock on the odd things Conison carries that they can’t find anywhere else.
Conison dedicates a lot of time to curating her collection of goods, mostly by reading blogs that review new pet products and browsing online. Her first priority is always to stay with local sources, whether that’s regionally or within the U.S. “I love to find stuff from New England when I can,” she says. “I had a woman write to me from Maine, she makes bowties for dogs. I decided to try it, and now they’re in my store.” She aims to continue finding unique, interesting and affordable products to offer her customers.
The Quirky is also a platform for Conison’s involvement in the community. Her first year in business, she sponsored a guide dog, and has since given gift certificates and baskets to silent auctions and donated unsold food, collars and leashes to rescues. When the mayor proposed more than doubling dog licensing fees, Conison got involved in local politics. “I became very vocal about keeping them affordable,” she says. “What would happen is people just wouldn’t license their dogs.”
Recently she offered to help out a little girl who plans to spend the summer writing a dog cookbook. “She’s going to donate half the proceeds to the Humane Society, so I told her if she does I would sponsor an opening for her here,” Conison says. “It’s really just about being an advocate for the dog community here.” TPE