Retro Glamour

Bow Wow Beauty Shoppe’s Leel Michelle brings a fun, chic retro style to pets in San Diego's hip Hillcrest neighborhood.

San Diego’s relaxed, California-cool vibe is the cornerstone of the city’s culture. In smaller neighborhoods within the area, the laidback atmosphere embraces upscale chic, while leaving any trace of an ego at the city limits. Located in the middle of San Diego, Hillcrest is one neighborhood comprising all that is unconventional; yet, as the epicenter of the city’s lesbian, bisexual, gay and transgender (LBGT) community, it is also welcoming to all, including its furry canine and feline residents.  

A few streets away from the city’s center sits Bow Wow Beauty Shoppe, a retro, 1950s-inspired pet grooming salon and boutique. Leel Michelle, who is known simply as Ms. Michelle to her clients, opened the 1,100-square-foot space in 2006, after deciding to invest in her own business and discovering a real-estate opportunity in the artsy neighborhood. By launching Bow Wow Beauty Shoppe, Michelle was able fulfill two childhood ambitions: becoming a professional artist or veterinarian—with one change. “When [I was] old enough to realize that I love animals, and I didn’t want to see them hurt, [I realized] this is the next best thing [to being a veterinarian]. We get to care for them and make them look fabulous,” she says.  
Bow Wow Beauty Shoppe’s entrance, with its a pink and white checker-pattern floor, is reminiscent of a beauty parlor from a bygone era when glamour was queen and putting one’s best face—or paw—forward was priority. 

But it is not all about looking good. The store’s Bow Wow Treat Bar offers indulgences that dogs will find delicious and are also fun for pet parents to choose. Large glass jars contain dog treats such as deer bones, Greenies, Bark Bars, duck strips, venison and bully sticks, and chicken and rice poppers that are neatly displayed on a light pink and mint green shelf. Other delicious and exquisitely crafted goodies, including the shop’s gourmet celebration cakes, cannoli, truffles, tartlets, cookies and cupcakes are stored in self-service retro refrigerators or elegant cake stands. 

Michelle seeks to make all of her clients feel special, leading her to also carry party-animal staples such as traditional cone-shaped party hats, birthday toys and Bowser Beer for Dogs. Using a local baker, Michelle has also designed a few of the cakes that are available exclusively at Bow Wow Beauty Shoppe, including a wedding cake and bone-shaped cakes in pink and green, and blue and green. The shop’s staff will also select, wrap and deliver gifts for local pets, a service that starts at $75. 

Inside the boutique area, clients are greeted with a chic collection of pet clothing, accessories and indulgent beauty products. Strands of faux pearl collars are available in hues of pink, blue, lavender and white, for pet owners who prefer the classic style of Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis or Audrey Hepburn. To ensure their clients are wearing the trendiest threads, Bow Wow Beauty Shoppe sells fashionable, quality pet apparel, collars, harnesses, leashes and accessories. The boutique’s offerings include dresses—some featuring delicate tulle-trimmed skirts—hooded onesies, neckties and shoes, including Converse-style sneakers. Products by brands such as Pet Flys, DOGO, Diva Dog, Planet Dog, Puppia, Gooby and Pet Head line the shelves with the latest fashions and luxurious beauty products.

Michelle’s twist on classic style expands beyond the products offered. While the full-service pet salon offers a standard bath and blow dry, it bypasses traditional pet bathing by adding cologne or perfume to the standard shampoo, conditioner, blowout, brushing and ear cleaning. Bow Wow Beauty Shoppe also offers dental cleaning—with or without anesthesia—manicures, pet-safe fur coloring, trendsetting styling and a blueberry facial for the ultimate pampering experience. South Bark, a self-service dog wash, sells the Blueberry Facial formula that has become a Bow Wow Pet Shoppe signature. “I found this product at a show when I first started [and wanted to try it] because it was created by a neighbor and I like to support my local neighbors. Not only does it smell good, it cleans really well,” Michelle says. 

Above and Beyond
Michelle plans on expanding her reach by branching out into other avenues of pet care, but the timing must be right for expansion. “I’ve toyed with additional locations or a dog grooming school, but within any geographical area, you are limited by the population,” she says. 
While a beauty school might not be in the immediate future, Bow Wow Beauty Shoppe offers apprenticeships, at a tuition cost of $3,000, which covers the four- to six-week schedule of eight-hour days, five days per week. Recalling a certain apprentice, Michelle says, “After one week here, she learned more with us than eight months [working as a bather] with a corporate store.” 

Michelle’s next venture will be to manufacture her own line of vintage-inspired grooming attire. “I’ve designed a very cool line of grooming wear,” she says. “It gives a waist and looks like a bowler shirt. The type of material allows fur to fall off easily, while looking cool and stylish.” Priced at $45, the shirts will be available for men in combinations of black and blue, or cream and black. Women’s styles will be offered in pink and black, lavender and black, or turquoise and black. The line will also include cargo shorts and Capri pants. 

In addition to stylish work wear, Michelle is scheduled to release a line of grooming kennels designed to be more inviting for pets and will put parents at ease. Using a tempered glass front, removable walls, plastic grates, locks and ventilation holes, she hopes to bring to the market a kennel that is comfortable, easy to clean and more palatable to pet owners than kennels with bars.  

At the shop, however, Michelle’s goal remains to maintain a fun, comfortable environment that forges creativity for all clients. She sums it up by saying, “Cute pet products should be available to everyone, and there is something for everyone here.”


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