It’s not always easy working in a shop. The hours are long. There can be interminable dull stretches, followed by an onslaught of customers arriving at once. And interacting with humans, let’s face it, comes with its own set of challenges.
But there’s one group of employees who bound into work every day, excited to start another shift. Each customer is a new best friend, at least until the next customer walks in the door. And if it all gets to be a bit too much, there’s always time to lie down in a nice fluffy bed beside the counter.
Shop dogs — from the tiny to the massive, from puppies to grizzled veterans — are some of the most beloved members of Minneapolis’ retail scene. One of them, the dearly departed Jäger, former shop dog at Settergren’s Ace Hardware in Linden Hills, is going to be honored with a statue of his likeness, which has to be a first for a retail employee.
“Having a dog in a store makes it feel like a warmer place,” said Mark Settergren, the man who brought Jäger along with him to his store, transforming it from a place you went to buy nuts and bolts to a place you visited expressly for the purpose of saying hello to the dog.
“There may be the perception among some customers that a shop with a dog is friendlier and more accepting,” said Pamela Schreiner, professor of epidemiology and director of the Center to Study Human Animal Relationships and Environments at the University of Minnesota. “For the dog’s owner, it might mean a reduction in lost work time. And among other employees, there is some evidence that having a dog around encourages more of what we call ‘pro-social’ behavior, which equates to better moods and attitudes toward one another.
“Some research has shown that groups of people exhibit better problem solving and decisionmaking if a dog is present,” she said.
But dogs aren’t always perfect, and, just like some of us, they can be ill-behaved, aggressive or even downright smelly. Admitting you don’t like dogs, or that you’re afraid of them, can be equivalent to saying you don’t like children.
“There’s a lot of peer pressure to be pro-dog, and that’s just not always true for every person or every culture,” Schreiner said.
For the majority of shoppers, though, a dog in a shop seems to be a plus. The pooches featured in this highly selective list are just a few of the many good boys and girls on the Twin Cities’ retail scene. (Note: We’ve left out cats of this round. Tell us about your favorite shop felines and we’ll work on a Part 2.)
Workplace: Nokomis Hardware
Weight: 20 pounds
Carolyn Faacks has owned Nokomis Hardware in Minneapolis for 27 years, and her life in the shop has been defined by the miniature schnauzers who have worked alongside her. First there was Kirby, then Rascal and now Monty, whose name is shortened from Inigo Montoya, an homage to a character in “The Princess Bride.”
“He’s the most amazing dog ever,” Faacks said. “He has his own circle of friends — humans and dogs — who come to the store just to see him.”
Before quarantine, Monty would often beat staff to the door to greet customers. “I think he knows that he works retail, so he has to be good,” she said. Even now that the store has switched to curbside pickup, Monty continued to come in.
Having Monty around allows Faacks to take a break every few hours to walk him around the block. “I’m not gone long, but it gives me a chance to exhale,” she said.
And Monty has been good for business. “As a small business, you want people to think of you first, before they try a big box store or Amazon,” she said. “People often stopped in just to see him, but then when they did, they might have remembered something they needed.”
There is one issue she’s struggled with: customers’ disappointment when Monty isn’t in the store. “Once we’re open to customers again, we’re thinking of making a door sign that says ‘Monty is in,’ so people know if it’s a good time to stop by.”
Workplace: The Foundry Home Goods
Weight: “More than a baby goat, less than a miniature pony.”
When school’s in session, Ruby knows when the neighborhood bus is about to drop off kids and she’s there to greet them. When she sees other dogs approaching, she lies down and waits for them to fully appreciate her kind and gentle heart. She even demonstrates merchandise by allowing it to be perched on her head for Instagram posts. She is Ruby, chocolate lab in residence at the Foundry Home Goods in south Minneapolis.
“She was born the day before I opened the shop, so it felt like fate,” said owner Anna Hillegass. “I knew I wanted a dog in the shop — I like the energy they bring.”
Ruby’s mellow nature makes her a neighborhood favorite. “In the past, when we were open for customers, we’ve had parents bring kids in to show them how to meet and interact with a dog,” said manager Lillian Egner. “People who have new puppies brought them for socialization with Ruby.”
What’s the secret to this model canine citizen’s behavior? Hillegass credits Ruby’s natural temperament and an adherence to the principles of “dog whisperer” César Millán. “I watched a lot of his videos when Ruby was a puppy,” she said.
Still, not every dog is right for every shop. Ruby’s younger sister Turnip (same parents, different litter) was described by Hillegass as a “contrarian with wildfire eyes.” Turnip goes to work with Hillegass’ husband at One on One Bicycle Studio in Minneapolis. “They have a fenced yard with bike and skateboard ramps where she can run up and down. She just does better in a jock environment, and our two dogs get along better at night if they spend the day away from each other.”
Age: 15 months
Weight: 55 pounds
Workplace: Settergren’s Ace Hardware
One of hardest parts of being a dog owner is the inescapable reality that you’re probably going to outlive your pet. And when a shop dog is as beloved as Jäger, “the unofficial mayor of Linden Hills,” then the grief surrounding his death in 2019 is an experience shared by the entire community.
Still, there comes a time when you’re ready to open your heart up to another dog, one more time. That’s what’s happened at Settergren’s, a place that just wouldn’t seem the same without a dog on the premises.
That dog is now Jäger’s grandson, a 15-month old Münsterländer named Jürgen, owned by store manager Joe Young. “This is a fourth-generation hardware store, and I feel that having a dog here helps with that family feeling,” Settergren said. “Hardware stores traditionally have been a community hub, and having a dog here helps us retain an aspect of that.”
Has it been good for business? “Sure, anytime you have something that brings people in, that’s good,” he said. “But hundreds and hundreds of times, people have said, ‘I’m just here to see the dog,’ and that’s OK with us. I can sell hammers and nails all day, but this is what makes my job fun.”
Andy, Brussels griffon; Babou, “super mutt”; Blair, standard poodle; Gus, Boston terrier; Rocky, Alaskan malamute; and Scout, “stunning mix.”
Workplace: Mercury Mosaics
While customers (and dogs) haven’t been in the shop since shelter in place orders, Mercedes Austin, self-described owner/founder/mover/shaker at Mercury Mosaics in northeast Minneapolis, looks forward to the day that will change. “It’s easy to help clients online and ship samples and tile, but there is no replacement for the love and morale boost only a dog can bring,” she said.
When the studio is fully operational, there will probably be at least five dogs in the studio any given workday, all owned by what Austin calls the studio’s “tile elves.”
The dogged environment all started innocently enough, when someone asked to bring their dog in for a half-day following a vet appointment. “While the dog was here, another staffer came by my desk, in a very grumpy mood and ready to complain about something,” Austin recalled. “But suddenly they were petting the dog and talking in this happy, baby voice. A light bulb went off in my head, and I started to think it might be a good idea to have dogs here all the time.”
Now the studio mentions “must love dogs” when advertising for new positions. “Dogs lighten up the vibe and make everyone happy,” Austin said. “I’d say that 99 percent of our customers are excited when they see them. It’s morphed into being part of our culture. We’re quirky and it’s part of our quirk.” Does Austin have a dog herself? “I don’t need one, when we have a zoo here,” she said.
Julie Kendrick is a freelance writer who lives in Minneapolis. She can be reached at @KendrickWorks.