I Was Back Where I Started.

When I was a teenager, I spent a summer working as a dog bather for a busy dog grooming shop.  It was one of the first in the northern suburbs.  It  was Colin’s of Lake Forest.

I didn’t know much about Colin.  I assumed he was either gay or bisexual, but that didn’t bother me at all. He did not actually groom dogs, although I assumed he knew how.  He was apparently well placed, socially.  I knew he owned an Afghan Hound from Kay Finch (Crown Crest Afghan Hounds—a now deceased, but very well known breeder throughout the 1950’s & ’60s).

He owned this business,  a similar shop in Winnetka, and a kennel in Elgin.  He had 2 main groomers.  He had Joao, a young guy from Brazil, who spoke no English, and Marge Westman.  Marge owned Poodles. A lot of Poodles.  It came out in conversation that she traveled from southern Michigan, around Union Pier, up to Lake Forest every day to groom dogs. The reason she did this is  that she was  showing some dogs, and  let the breeding of Poodles get way out of hand to the point that she had  more  dogs than she imagined she would.  This might have had something to do with her mother minding the dogs (or, rather, NOT minding the dogs), but no matter. She was in real trouble & needed that  much grooming to  pay for dog food.  This was 4 hours round trip.  I could not imagine.

Another girl and I did all the bathing.  There were no Force dryers back then. We fluff dried everything.  Each of us did  8–10 dogs each, They were all Poodles. sometimes there was a cocker spaniel or a miniature Schnauzer, but  mostly Poodles. There were no Shih Tzu, Bichon, or cockapoos back then, and most of the other breeds went back to their breeders for grooming.   I remember Marge was  very angry that one Standard poodle owner wanted natural feet, and  a totally scissored face.   She wondered why the guy got a Poodle if he didn’t want it to look like a Poodle.   The shop was not air-conditioned.  It was very hard work.  I asked for $1 an hour. That was not even minimum wage. I’d fall into bed after dinner, totally exhausted.

At the end of summer, I went back to school, and got other  dog grooming jobs.  I am not sure what happened, but Colin sold the  Lake Forest Shop and the kennel to the people who renamed  the  business Shaggy Dog Shop.  The Wilmette shop got sold to a woman  who  ultimately   left the country and sold (or gave) the shop to her employees, who ran it as a cooperative, and called it The Dog Wash.

Shaggy Dog then got sold to one of their employees, Ann,  the girl I had worked with as a teenager, and she had the shop for over  20 years.  She decided to  sell it when  the economy was starting to erode, but was still ok. Shaggy Dog had at least  4 groomers besides the owner, and was completely booked over  2 weeks ahead. That means they could not take another dog, they were so busy, or they had no place to put another dog in the shop.

The owner sold the shop to a non-groomer:  Diana Principato. Nnice woman, but  one who liked the idea of having a dog business.  Ann told Diana  she had to learn to groom dogs, Diana ignored this advice.  Things started changing.  When Diana took over, the employees has to tell her what to do, and really resented that  Diana would not even bathe or brush out dogs. 3 left to open their own business, and some of the clients followed them.  Diana had to hire other groomers. she still would not learn to do the basic stuff, and worse, her husband was hanging around not adding anything to the business.  I  had been looking for  part-time work, and the girls who left told me to  go see Diana.  The problem was,  by this time, the business was failing.  Diana was in denial.  She had me come up for work  when she knew  there was no work for me.  When it rains, people don’t call to get their dogs groomed.  Worse, since groomers are paid commission,  I wasn’t going to get paid for showing up.

I found other work, and  in the  five or so years since then, Diana cycled through many groomers. Good groomers. So what happened?  In fear that  Diana would not have enough groomers just in case she got busy, she  hired too many. She also hired men to do the  ‘bath’ dogs. They got paid an hourly wage, but  those dogs could have supported all the groomers.  Diana started bouncing checks.

A few weeks ago, Diana  posted to hire another groomer.  I was looking for part-time work.  She was down to a groomer and a bather. This shop, which had always been booked  at least 2 weeks ahead, was now not even booked a day a head.  She felt her problem was that  the  staff would go out partying, get drunk, and come in late. What I discovered is that she wanted groomers  in the shop at 7:45 a.m., whether they were busy or not, so  a client could have a dog by 10:30.  Her groomer was coming in between  9 and 9:30.   Still making money for Diana. I asked Diana, Since you  know she does this, why don’t you bathe and set up the dog for her, so she can finish it when she comes in?”

Diana looked at me with total disgust and responded, “You don’t understand. I’m a CPA.”

“So?  I have a master’s degree. This is a grooming business.”  Then, a client came in, so that was the end of discussion.   However, she did it to me again. Even though she  knew she had no dogs for me the next day, she did not call me in the evening.  She called me after 7:30 , after I had left for work. A 50 mile  round trip for a woman in denial.

The last day I came in  was after the Memorial Day Weekend.  I had called her on Monday night  and told her I’d be in at 8:30 if she had dogs, she told me she did.  I got in a little early, and  she had hired a girl..to groom?  Neither of us would get a full day of grooming, but not only that,  she had told me she’d give me a check the Friday before, but  I was not scheduled to groom. So, I asked for my check, and she told me she had 60 days to  give it to me.  I asked her if I could start a dog, and she didn’t want me to every brush it out or do ears and nails until she knew whether it was a bath or grooming dog.  After this length of time,this many years, she still didn’t understand that she was  not paying  groomers to sit around:  that  many dogs you can bathe without  cutting their hair. And, so unprofessional…she brought her boyfriend to work to hang out.  2 adults to watch everyone else work.  We agreed that I’d leave.

Diana thinks that  the reason business is terrible because 5 other  grooming shops have opened near by. She doesn’t believe all those  Poodle  and Bichon owners now have Bostons and French Bulldogs, and can have their maids wash the dogs in the laundry room.  She doesn’t understand her own business, and I don’t think she’ll be able to keep it going another year.


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