The staff of Great Dogs of Great Falls, which offers pet food, toys, accessories and grooming services.
Photo by Alex McVeigh.
Great Falls When it came time to choose a second career, Linda Waitkus wasn’t sure what to do. After 30 years of retail experience, including managing the Bloomingdale’s at Tysons Corner, she looked in several directions. But it wasn’t until she went to a meeting of a local women’s club that she got an idea.
"The group asked ‘what do you like to read? What do you do on your days off?’ and my answer was ‘dogs, dogs, dogs,’" she said. "So I decided not to fight my retail instincts, just combine it with what I love."
Waitkus purchased Great Dogs in Great Falls in November of 2008, and more than three years later, it’s still going strong. The store contains anything a dog, or cat, could want, including food, accessories, toys and grooming services.
Waitkus says she places a special emphasis on food, making sure to buy foods that are healthy and affordable, without the byproducts that are found in so many mainstream brands.
"There is absolutely, positively not one byproduct in this store," she said. "We’re trying to build an animal’s health through good nutrition, which will help them fight off a lot of problems in the future."
Staff at the store can also consult with pet owners who are concerned about an animal’s food allergies or weight.
"Until going into Great Dogs, I wasn’t sure there was a difference between dog foods, I used to get whatever was on sale," said Beth Armstrong of Great Falls. "It was enlightening to hear about how certain ingredients can hurt, or help your dog’s health, and how easy it is to find the right food if you just look around."
Great Dogs also features grooming services for any species of dog, from puppies to the elderly.
"Grooming is kind of our claim to fame, our staff is very dedicated, and anyone that comes in can see how much we all truly love dogs," said Waitkus, who personally grooms all the golden retrievers, her favorite breed. "While they’re here, the dogs are always in our sight, and we do our best to make sure grooming, which is normally very stressful, isn’t too hard on the dogs. We’ve always got the treat jar out and ready."
Waitkus keeps a treat jar out for dogs and a separate, candy-filled one for the younger pet owners who often come in to watch their animal get groomed.
"My goal has always been to make this a community-based pet store, and it’s been such a wonderful experience getting to know our customers, coming in and seeing friends and neighbors in conversation," she said. "It’s because of our wonderful clients that we’ve been able to grow, and I think it becomes this network where people can meet and get into intimate conversations."
Helen Mason of McLean says she enjoys the atmosphere of Great Dogs more than one of the bigger chain stores.
"When you go in, you really get the sense that the people there are genuinely concerned with the welfare of your pet, not just about making a sale or filling time on their shift," she said. "They know their stuff, and they are always willing to help make the best decision for your pet."
In the future, Waitkus says she hopes to get the store more involved in adoption events and other animal organizations. They participated in a drive for the Loudoun-based Friends of Homeless Animals last year, raising funds and other pet supplies for the group.
More information is available at www.greatdogsofgreatfalls.com.