By Joseph Robertia
When he was a kid, Jody Hoskins became enamored with animals starting with a pair of pet cockatiels. His interest took flight all the way into adulthood.
His affinity for animals and caring for them grew until it was not longer just something he wanted to pursue as a pastime. He wanted it to be full time, to pay for itself and maybe even then some. With seed money he had saved up, he looked around the central Kenai Peninsula until he found a place he could afford and opened Our Best Friends pet shop.
“That was back in ’92, across the street where the small engine repair business is now. It was only a 600-square-foot place, and even though it was mostly just birds and fish at the start, the place was packed. If someone came in a wheelchair, I had to wait on them at the front door,” Hoskins said.
Over the years, the business grew steadily. In 1994 it relocated across Kalifornsky Beach Road to its current location, but even there the business grew to where the building was expanded. It finally reached the point where Hoskins had a new building built right next door, and in 2006 he turned the previous pet shop building into a self pet-wash business.
However, while all of this seemed liked a boon at the time, it may be the very thing that has now caused a bust, as Our Best Friends is preparing to close.
“I think my mistake might have been growing my business too big. It required so many employees, working so many hours to take care of all the animals properly. I thought with enough inventory I could survive anything, but maybe I should have had a little less and paid more to my mortgage and bills,” he said.
And there were a lot of animals. It is one of the things that separated his store from other small pet shops. Not only did Hoskins stock more than just dog and cat supplies, he also carried birds, reptiles, amphibians, rodents and insects.
“In some ways, this is like a little boy’s dream gone crazy,” he said. “Over the years I went from not even knowing hedgehogs existed to getting to a point where I had hedgehogs having babies right here in the store.”
Hoskins said that he even saw a few pet sales run to the next generation.
“I’ve had a few people who I sold them their first pet, now come in with their own kids looking for their first pet,” he said.
He cited two elements that seemed to specifically contribute to the decline of his business — the Internet and the recent opening of a pet-themed, chain retail store in Soldotna.
“Over the last two years I lost around 20 percent to the Internet, and since Petco opened it’s had an effect of around another 20 percent lost. It’s not the sole cause, but it’s the final straw. This has never been retirement money, but it was a living, and I liked what I did and who I did it with, but a 40 percent loss was just too much. I fought it as long as I could,” he said.
As of now Hoskins said that there is an ongoing 50 percent-off sale on all merchandise, and many of the live animals have already been sold or spoken for by prospective buyers.
“The small animals are almost gone; birds are usually the last to go. I’m also donating all the used fish tanks to the school district, which is 150 plus, so every teacher should have one next year,” he said.
As for his employees, Hoskins said they’ve shown their merit by sticking with him even after hearing they would soon be out of work.
“This was a first job for many people, and I taught them not just how to care for pets, but workplace values. I’ve had a staff of as many as seven at times. And the people working for me now, they’ve stuck with me through this, so I’m trying to work them as long as I can, and I’d give a recommendation for all of them,” he said.
“I’m nervous about the future, but I’ve already had all the worrying and sleepless nights. The decision to close is made now, even if I’m not sure what the official last day will be. The building is for sale, although the decision hasn’t been made on the dog wash yet,” he said.
“I’m looking for a job, and not sure what I’ll do. I’ve worked in the oil field and had a lot of different jobs there, but I’m open to suggestions. I like working with people and I’d like to find a way to keep contributing my knowledge of animals in some way,” he added.
He’s resigned to moving on, though it is with mixed feelings.
“Closing after running my own business, paying my bills, and employing people for 21 years,” he said, “I’m not sure if that is a failure or a success.”