Ox Bow Pet Shop Closing Marks End of an Era

22Apr11

Will close June 1 after 65 years on Albion Street in Wakefield, Massachusetts
Ox Bow Pet ShopThe expression, “the end of an era,” has become a bit of a cliché. But when the Ox Bow Pet Shop, one of Wakefield’s oldest businesses and one of the few independent, family-owned pet stores in a market dominated by chain stores closes its doors for good on June 1 after 65 years in business, it truly will mark the end of an era.

According to store owner Edith Curran and her mother, former owner Priscilla Foss, the Albion Street property is under a purchase and sale agreement with a developer who plans to construct duplex homes on the site. They declined to name the prospective buyer because the deal is not final.

The Item has confirmed that the adjacent property on Albion Street leased by the VIP gas station is also being sold, although the owner of that business said that he has not been told by the landlord who the buyer is or what the plans are for that property.

As for the Ox Bow Pet Shop, Foss and Curran said that they had made the decision to close the business even before they had an offer for the property.

“It’s a lot of property for the two of us,” Curran says. Her mother agrees, explaining that since her husband Ernest Foss died 11 years ago, they have had to hire someone to perform even routine chores and property maintenance. “It’s too much,” Priscilla Foss says.

Ox Bow Pet ShopBut selling the property does involve some regrets. Under different circumstances, Curran says, they might have considered retaining the property if not the store. She notes that at one point four generations lived in the family home that sits across the parking lot from the store.

“My grandparents, my parents, myself and my kids all lived in the house,” Curran recalls. “We would like to have stayed because my grandparents had the property and worked so hard coming out of the Depression.”

Albion Street - 1939Moving to Wakefield from Everett in 1938, John and Beatrice Stormont purchased the 18th century house and barn on Albion Street in what was then a rural part of town. According to Foss, who describes her father as “a very patriotic man,” John Stormont was a power plant manager for the Edison Company and enlisted in the US Navy immediately after Pearl Harbor.

During the Depression, Stormont had also run a pet shop on the Revere Beach Parkway in Everett, so when he was discharged from the Navy in 1946, he and his wife Beatrice established a new business in their barn on Albion Street. Initially, Foss says, they sold both pet supplies and antiques, but increasingly pet supplies came to dominate the business. Stormont came up with the store’s name from all the ox bows, or “yokes” that he had found in the old barn.

Ox Bow Pet Shop - 1946Foss says that it originally was called the “Ox Bow Kennel Shop,” but her father thought people would respond better if it was called a “pet shop.” They started selling small pets like gerbils, hamsters and rabbits.

Curran points out that early on the business also served as a wholesale outlet as well as a retail store, supplying pet shops all around New England. Priscilla Foss and her father were also professional dog handlers and bred and raised dachshunds.

“I used to give dog obedience classes down at Moulton Playground in the 1950s,” Foss recalls, adding that up to last year Curran continued the obedience training at the store, assisted by her mother.

Priscilla married Ernest Foss who joined the family business. She and her husband took over running the store in the early 1960s. Her daughter Edith Curran took over the business about 1990.

“We used to raise our own parakeets,” Foss recalls. “My husband did that. “We used to have about 100 parakeets we were breeding. We still buy our parakeets from local breeders.” Curran adds that she has raised hamsters for the store for about 20 years.

“We’re firm believers in doing it ourselves or buying from people that we know are clean and reliable,” Foss says.

Foss and Curran agree that the big chain pet stores with their buying power have hurt independent shops like theirs. But customer service was where Ox Bow had the advantage.

“When we first opened, we were open 9 a.m. to 9 p.m.,” Foss says. “We had the phone so that it rang here in the shop and also rang in the house. You’d do anything for the customers.”

Curran recalls another customer friendly practice that the family employed.

“We had a system so at lunch time I could close up and sit in the house and have lunch,” Curran recalls. “If one of the doors to the store opened, a buzzer would go off in the house and we’d come right out.”

Local resident Dennis Clancy has fond memories of working at the Ox Bow Pet Shop as a high school student in the 1960s and says that the family’s customer-friendly attitude was genuine.

“They were all just as nice behind the scenes as they were to the customers,” Clancy recalls. “They were great at giving advice. A customer would have a question, and they would have the answer. You don’t get that at the pet superstores.”

Ox Bow Pet Shop - 1960sIn 1961, the all-glass façade was added to the store front, and the parking lot was expanded. Foss recalls that in those days the store was so busy that they often needed a police detail to direct traffic.

A Dec. 6, 1961 Ox Bow advertisement in the Daily Item promotes baby turtles, parakeets, hamsters, tropical fish, wild bird seed, feeders, leashes, collars, dog training, clippers, combs, brushes, dog food, cat food, and aquarium supplies among the “3,300 items in stock.”

Foss and Curran haven’t made any firm decisions on where they will go after the property is sold. The family has had a place in Nova Scotia for many years where they will probably spend their summers.

Foss says that if they leave Wakefield she will miss being able to go downtown and see familiar faces and visit familiar and trusted businesses.

But as she looks around the store that her father created from an old barn and where she has worked since she was 14 years old, there is little doubt about what Pricilla Foss will miss the most.

“I will miss being here,” she says.

[This story originally appeared in the April 22, 2011 Wakefield Daily Item.]

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