Dog daycare owner speaks out after sudden closing
When dog owners in Tigard stopped by Growlers Doggy Daycare to drop off their pooches a little more than a month ago, they were shocked to find the lights off, doors locked and a sign posted that said the tenant was not allowed on premises.
Business owner Kevin York said he was just as shocked as his customers were.
We had absolutely no notice at all, said York. We showed up for work that morning and they were there in the process of locking the doors.
A taphouse next door owned by York, called Growlers Public House, was also shut down by the landlord on the same day, July 29.
Blindsided customers have expressed their frustration and anger online, and York has seen it all, including contentions that he ran a shady business that was frauding people, he said.
None of that is true, said York, who later sent emails to his customers with an explanation. What hurts the most is leaving all the customers in limbo.
For months, York struggled to pay rent to his landlord.
York said his problems with producing enough money to pay rent began when the city of Tigard informed him a month after his business opened that he was not allowed to provide one of the core services outlined in his lease overnight dog boarding.
Growlers Doggy Daycare opened in 2015 and was located near the Progress Ridge shopping center, zoned as a community-commercial area.
Community-commercial zones, which are located in largely residential areas, allow for personal services ranging from grocery stores to hair salons to dry cleaners. They allow for pet daycare, too, but not overnight boarding.
With the loss of the boarding business came a loss of 40 to 50 percent of their revenue, said York. Moreover, they began to lose customers who preferred a one-stop shop for their dogs grooming, daycare and boarding needs.
Every other doggy daycare had boarding, York said.
But for a number of reasons, he felt certain hed be able to work something out, so he kept offering his shops array of grooming and daycare packages to more than 500 regular customers. With a seven-year lease that allowed for a five-year extension, York was thinking long-term and saw this as just a bump in the road.
You provide the best customer service you can, and hope that you can make it, York said.
Many customers who had signed up for prepaid programs and packages, however, are now demanding refunds.
Its not something were able to guarantee at this point, but its something were looking into, said York, explaining that he was in the midst of legal discussions.
Were not running off with anyones money, because we dont have that money. That money was paid towards the business, he added.
Its a concern that comes from customers who point out that a previous dog daycare York owned, Dogstar in Northwest Portland, was shut down after a bill dispute with the landlord. Court documents show that one customer sued York because he had not been issued a refund after being promised one.
But York said the two situations are not the same. He was a regular customer who took ownership of Dogstar from a friend, knowing the business was already in a dire financial situation.
Though he was unsuccessful there, York said he hoped to salvage Dogstar because he had an emotional tie to it.
After opening Growlers and falling behind on rent, York said he had arranged to send weekly rent checks to the property manager, including a check he had ready at the end of July that was never picked up.
Growlers defaulted on its lease just as York reached a breakthrough that he believes would have turned things around, one he had spent months lobbying to get.
In July, he received a phone call from the city of Tigard telling him that they were going to propose an amendment to city codes that would allow him to board dogs overnight.
Right now, dog boarding is classified as an animal-related commercial use, which is only allowed in industrial zones.
For that to change, we have to allow that use-type in (the community-commercial) zone, said Liz Newton, assistant city manager.
Whether or not Growlers re-opens, York has paved the path for a potential city-wide change that will be voted on this year.
The amendment is set to go to Tigards city planning commission in October, and then to city council in November, said associate planner Agnes Kowacz.
According to Kowacz, the code amendment would reclassify it as a personal service, provided that the dogs remain enclosed indoors during their stays except for walks.
We thought we could start taking (boarding) reservations for Thanksgiving and Christmas, said York. We were finally going to see an uptick in revenue.
This summer, York also began to hear from investors who believed in his business model and were willing to provide funds if he could work out a deal with his landlord.
But it was too late his property management group was not accepting any proposals that would allow him to stay in business, he said.
Opening back up is still a possibility, but things arent looking great.
We cant say anything for sure at this point, York said.
In retrospect, York said he might have done some things differently. He would have reached out to investors earlier, or looked into terminating the lease when he was informed that boarding was not allowed.
But truly, our hearts were in it, said York.
He had an option to terminate the lease after he lost boarding, but held on because he had built a strong customer base.
We provided a service our customers loved. We became really good friends with a lot of our customers, York said.
I spent seven days a week there. It was my second home, he added. Not seeing all the customers and the dogs, thats whats been hard.