The quirky pet store on Pico was almost another one of those precious Santa Monica mileposts lost to changing times.
Tucked behind the former Vidiots location, the latest local institution to close up shop and move out of the City, Animal Kingdom nearly met the same fate in 2010. The owner had grown old and running the business had become too much. One day in September, loyal customer DJ Davis walked in to see sale signs all over the store.
It was one of those “everything must go” events that signals a final blowout before a mom and pop business shutters its doors forever. Davis had visited the store his entire life and the owner had become a dear friend of his wife and daughter.
“He was literally going to lock the doors and just walk away,” Davis said.
Indeed, the store’s owner ended up doing just that but not before Davis’s wife, Christina Najera-Davis, bought it from the old man. Now seven years later, the forty year old store still provides a home to its two life-long tenants: an assertive Macaw named Jimi and a purebred Blue Point Siamese cat named Sweetheart.
While Davis has tried to get Sweetheart adopted into a real home over the years, she always ended up right back at the store.
“Half the time she sleeps,” Davis said as the grey cat licked her paws near a refrigerator full of perishable dog food. “She tests out all the beds. She’s our night watch, I guess you could say.”
The store is not flashy like other “pet spas” or fancy health food stores around town but Davis stocks everything the locals who live nearby might need. His experienced staff groom dogs and cats and for $35 your small dog can run around the store’s backyard all day.
“It’s a lot of hard work,” Davis said. “You hear people talk about running a small business, how it runs you and it really does. You live, breath, and eat it. You have to.”
All that hard work has paid off though, and when Vidiot’s owner offered the space to them before putting it on the market, Davis and his wife decided it was time to expand. Behind paper-covered windows and surrounded by cardboard boxes full of new merchandise, the husband and wife team are turning the video store into a pet store.
“We’re doing this all on our own and as efficiently as we can,” Davis said. “We’re reusing the Vidiots counter. It was one solid, cement board countertop. We cut it into three pieces. It was our biggest nightmare of moving in here.”
While they hired a contractor to paint the ceiling and add an inside window in one of the rooms, the Davis’s painted the walls themselves and are now in the middle of setting up the shelves and filling them with leashes, toys and doggy beds.
It’s a labor of love that feels overwhelming at times.
“We try and be here as much as we can. Usually my wife or I are here. That’s what consumers want. They want that personable feeling and that’s what we want to give.”
The store will have a soft opening May 1, giving Davis enough time to work out any kinks begore the grand opening on Sunday, May 20.
“It’s been good. I grow up here so I’ve seen the City change a ton. But as far as working with the City, they’ve been really good.”
“We’re going to give it a go and see where it takes us.”
Animal Kingdom is located at 300 Pico Blvd. Visit https://animalkingdomsm.com or call (310) 392-4074 for more information.