Local pet owners counter the cold with designer clothes for the four-legged set
Beth Crisman's dog Cody, a Boston Terrier. (Lloyd Fox, Baltimore Sun / January 20, 2011)
And Sparky's owner, George Sakellaris, also in Burberry, doesn't look too shabby, either.
"He's a little old man, and he loves dressing up," says Sakellaris, co-owner of the store at 840 Aliceanna St., the shop where Sparky, a 13-year-old Brussels Griffon, can be found most days.
"Sparky has worn clothes ever since he was a baby; now he has two coats and about a dozen sweaters. Mostly, we dress him because he's short-haired and he gets really cold when he goes outside. If it's raining, he doesn't like to go out at all, but he minds it less if he's wearing a raincoat."
Despite the recession, Baltimore dog owners have been snatching up sweaters, coats, raingear and, yes, even booties this winter to help keep Fifi and Fido toasty and dry.
"You're talking about a passionate product for a passionate consumer, and passion overrides any economic downturn," says Marshal Cohen, chief retail analyst at the NPD Group, the New York-based market research organization.
"Even during the recession, where the consumer was cutting back, certain items became identified as necessary luxuries. Pet owners wanted to insulate their dogs and cats against the recession in the same way that they wanted to isolate and protect their children."
For instance, Beth Crisman, who lives in Northwest Baltimore, can't afford designer duds for herself or her dog on what she earns as a practicing artist and part-time professor. (She teaches photography and art history at several area community colleges.)
But Crisman would no more go without sweaters in winter for Cody, her 3-year-old Boston terrier, than she would go without a coat for herself.
"Bostons don't do well with either extreme temperatures of hot or cold," she says, adding that she orders Cody's clothes either through online sites or catalogues, spending about $10 on average for a sweater.
"But he looks really cute, and he loves the attention he gets when we go for a walk. What dog wouldn't?"
Virginia Byrnes, co-owner of Dogma in Canton estimates that about 30 percent of her canine customers come into her shop wearing attire of some sort. Across town, Chris Woodside, co-owner of Pretentious Pooch in Mount Vernon, estimates that canine apparel makes up between one-fifth and one-quarter of his winter sales.
Cohen said that boutique-style stores peaked in popularity about five years ago — or about the same time that such top labels as Gucci, Prada and Coach decided to expand into the pet market.
Once the recession hit, many boutiques had to branch out into other dog and cat products, such as food and bowls, to remain in the black.
Baltimore is a city that places a high value on being down to earth, Woodside said, so frou-frou products that sell strongly in such cities as New York, Los Angeles or even Washington do less well here.
"People in Baltimore are definitely more practical," he says. "It became clear a year or so ago that we were either going to have to morph into selling other products or close the front door."
Still, there's practical, and then there's "practical." A sweater or coat may be a necessity for short-haired dogs such as chihauhaus, terriers or even Dobermans who walk outside when temperatures are in single digits.
And if that coat happens to be quilted, beige and made by Gucci (retail value, $280) or a striped Coach cashmere sweater ($148 and up), that doesn't make it less functional.
For instance, Cathy Brennan, an attorney who lives in Rodgers Forge in Baltimore County, enjoys dressing Dante, the surviving member of a pair of Boston terriers, in sweaters, a cape and bow ties.