By Ken Williams | Editor
Hillcrest’s ‘Canine Country Club’ moving to North Park
With a dollop of sadness about leaving Hillcrest and a dose of excitement about heading to North Park, the team at Fido and Company Canine Country Club is busy preparing for the big move.
The owner, Lisa Wilhoit McCormick, and her staff have been counting down the days and will bid farewell to Hillcrest on Wednesday, Aug. 31, and say hello to North Park on Thursday, Sept. 1.
Fido and Company will take over two office spaces in the building that also houses The Mission Restaurant, located at the corner of 28th Street and University Avenue. The two office spaces were recently occupied by a dance studio and an optometrist, Dr. Stephen Chinn, who recently moved one block east to 2856 University Ave. Local historians say the building — which is not historically designated — was originally an auto garage and once the home of Zumwalt’s Bicycle Center.
McCormick said Fido and Company will be downsizing from the 7,000-square-foot Hillcrest location to a 5,000-square-foot North Park site.
“It’s a really good move for us,” she said. “We will also have more manageable rent.”
Times have changed in the decade that has passed since McCormick came up with the idea of opening a place to pamper pooches.
“The economy was booming when we came up with our business plan in 2006,” she recalled. “People were in a ‘luxury’ state of mind. We wanted to create a ‘Canine Country Club’ for our customers.
“By the time we opened on April 14, 2008 … it was almost to the day the economy crashed in San Diego,” McCormick said.
Like many other businesses, small and large, surviving during the biggest economic crisis since the Great Depression became an enormous challenge. Yet, she said, Fido and Company built up a large clientele who had the money to spoil their pets.
“We picked Hillcrest for the demographics,” McCormick said. “The community was very welcoming.”
Not a run-of-the-mill establishment, Fido and Company offers daycare, grooming, a wellness spa, pet sitting, overnight stays, cage-free boarding, professional training, birthday parties, baby showers for pregnant pets, and other special events for doggies of all sizes and shapes.
“We still operate on the same philosophy: Nothing but the best for our customers,” McCormick said. “We call our dogs ‘members’ and their owners ‘parents.’ We always want to be a step above our competitors.”
In her other career, McCormick is a fitness trainer at the nearby 24 Hour Fitness.
“Hillcrest has been my community,” she said, since moving to San Diego from northern Virginia in 1999. “So Hillcrest was a good fit for us.”
McCormick is sad to leave the Hillcrest shop, which is between Gossip Grill and Uptown Tavern.
“We will especially miss the annual Pride celebration,” she said.
Work has already begun on the new site in North Park, but she said the grand opening would be put off until sometime in October.
Although the new location is smaller by 2,000 square feet, McCormick said Fido and Company would not be cutting back on any services. She said the spacious lobby at the Hillcrest location contains a lot of wasted space and the new lobby in North Park will be much smaller. Actually, she said, the business will be looking to expand services by adding more grooming times, for example.
“I plan to work with The Mission Restaurant to offer special deals, such as doing grooming while the dog’s parents are dining at the restaurant,” she said.
Doggie parents vow to follow McCormick and her team to North Park.
“We have been Fido customers for over two years,” said Mo Bennett, a legal secretary. “We take our dog, Kona, to Fido because they really care about the dogs and treat them like their own.
“We started as Fido customers when our dog broke her leg and needed constant supervision during the day,” Bennett said. “One of the workers would spend her lunch hour reading to Kona to keep her company since she had a cast and couldn’t yet play with the other dogs. … They took such exceptional care of her when she was injured. We knew we would continue with doggie daycare for her.”
Bennett said she uses daycare three days per week and also gets Kona groomed there.
“Our dog always comes home exhausted from playing all day — even though they get nap time and Fido plays classical music — and then sparkly clean after a grooming session,” she said.
“We most certainly will follow Fido to North Park. It’s just a mile from the current location and the care and love they display is unbeatable.”
McCormick herself is a big-time dog lover, and the proud owner of two pugs, Butkus Santiago Wilhoit McCormick and Gabi McCormick. She said Fido treats all “members” (the dogs) like her own furry children.
“We’ve been really, really blessed with really wonderful people and really wonderful pets,” McCormick said. “They are like family to us. I can’t imagine losing my family when we move to North Park. I know they will be coming with us.”
The move 1.2 miles east on University Avenue will bring new opportunities, too, to connect with pet owners in North Park, South Park, Normal Heights, City Heights and other neighborhoods.
“I’ve been to a few business mixers in North Park already,” McCormick said. “Everyone has made me feel very welcome.”
Lisa Ann Nieblas, who has been the groomer at Fido and Company for more than seven years, said she is looking forward to the move because the new location is just steps away from KFC. That brought a laugh from her boss, who joked about how much Nieblas loves her fried chicken.
Nieblas said she, too, has a special place in her heart for canines, and described how she tries to make dogs relax before a grooming.
“I talk to them, give them kisses, to make them comfortable. OK, I make out with them!” Nieblas said, laughing.
“She has ‘the gift,’” McCormick said, noting that Nieblas has been voted “best groomer” in a number of local publications including Best of San Diego Uptown News.
Nieblas consults with dog owners before each grooming, to make sure their needs are meet. Her styles range from classic to unique, and she even dyes the hair of dogs, if requested.
“We get a lot of requests for Pride,” she said. “One customer even wanted their dog to have a rainbow mohawk for Pride.”
Nieblas said she is respectful to older dogs, who might need more time to get their hair cut.
“Some of the older dogs can’t stand on their feet for a long period of time, so I might take up to four hours to groom them,” she added.
McCormick said not all dogs are welcome at Fido and Company.
“I can’t take every dog,” she said. “I won’t take aggressive dogs.”
When a dog comes by the first time, McCormick screens each and every one of them. Are they up-to-date with their vaccinations? Do they get along with other dogs? If they pass the initial inspection, the dogs are given a bath to make sure they don’t have any fleas, bumps or bruises.
“I take the new dog to a sectioned-off area to introduce them to our place,” she said. “We gradually introduce them to another dog, to see if they like each other. If all goes well, they are introduced to all the dogs.”
Small dogs are kept separate from large dogs, McCormick said.
The same rules will apply at the North Park location.
“We are excited about the move,” McCormick said. “We are excited for the new chapter in our lives, and for all the new friends we are going to make in North Park.”
—Ken Williams is editor of Uptown News and can be reached at email@example.com or at 619-961-1952. Follow him on Twitter at @KenSanDiego, Instagram at @KenSD or Facebook at KenWilliamsSanDiego.