Western Springs shop creates loyal, tail-wagging following

Even without treats, Andrew Krichbaum’s two- and four-legged customers are happy to walk in the door of Pet Necessities in Western Springs.

And the feeling is mutual.

“It just makes the day a delight, having customers stop in and getting to know the families,” Krichbaum said. “A perk of the job is getting to play with the dogs.”

The owner said he also has enjoyed renewing acquaintances from his years growing up in town and attending Laidlaw Elementary School, McClure Junior High School and Lyons Township High School. His commute is ideal, just a short walk to his store on the edge of the business district.

Though tucked away on Johnson Avenue just north of Hillgrove Avenue, Krichbaum said the store’s location has been good. A welcoming bowl of water sits outside the shop.

“It’s nice to be a little off the beaten path, because people feel comfortable walking their dogs here. It’s not super busy,” he said. “It’s a destination. And I get a lot of kids walking home from McClure, who stop in.”

Following jobs in the hotel and restaurant industries, Krichbaum said he thought about opening a store for pets after visiting a shop filled with interesting items just for dogs. With encouragement and some financing from his family, he took the plunge.

“My sister, Jennifer, and I painted this wall red, but we didn’t use the right primer,” he said. “It took us seven or eight coats. The support from my family has been great.”

Krichbaum admits 2007 was a horrible time to launch a business in the midst of a recession.

“But the pet industry was not really affected. People still spend money on their dogs and pets,” he said. “They treat them like family.”

A somewhat helpful circumstance at the time was a major scare of pet food from China tainted with melamine.

“When people started searching out better products, my store began to come up on their searches,” he said. “I carry food and treats made only with U.S. ingredients.”

Krichbaum said he has concentrated on developing relationships with his customers, knowing their pets’ needs and expanding his lines of food and supplies little by little.

“I don’t like to overstock or carry a lot of inventory,” he said. “I’m almost out of space here. I use every nook and cranny.”

Like a lot of small shop owners, Krichbaum said he has encountered competition from big box stores as they begin carrying better quality foods.

“People come here for the personal help, and I’m convenient,” he said. “There are some niche products you can get only at an independent store.”

Krichbaum said he’s pleased with the community’s support, evidenced by more than 300 snapshots of pets, mostly dogs, on the wall behind his main counter.

“People like to see their dog’s first photo as a puppy, which might have been seven years ago,” he said.

Krichbaum said he also enjoys meeting his customers outside the store while he’s walking his two dogs, Snoopy, 13, and Monty, 10. Both are a short-haired pointer mix and from rescue organizations.

“The industry is still growing every year as more people are becoming educated on what they’re feeding their pets,” he said. “Hopefully people enjoy that small scale one-on-one interaction here.”

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