Monday, December 13, 2010

A Christmas Perspective


Long before the term "pet parent" entered the vernacular, I toiled as young man in a place called Pet Nosh. During the mid-1980s, there were no retail superstores exclusively devoted to pets and their care in the environs of New York City. In fact, this little store on Central Avenue in Yonkers was considered both big and utterly unique for its day. And it was. It was also a harbinger of much grander things to come.

Some years ago, while crafting a book proposal for a pet-themed topic, I plucked out a particular anecdote from my life and times in the aforementioned belly of the beast. I recounted the tale of how Pet Nosh was the very first retailer to promote a visitation from ol' St. Nick, who would avail his busy lap top this go-round for God's four-legged and feathered creatures and not run-of-the mill, incredibly ordinary little girls and boys. I cited Pet Nosh as the pioneer of this marketing endeavor, which has since become redundant, playing out everywhere, including in the now countless mega-superstores, which actually have the chutzpah to charge for the privilege.

A quarter of a century ago, Pet Nosh advertised the occasion as a way of saying thank you to its loyal patrons. All one had to do was show up on the scheduled night with a pet or multiple pets—and a picture with Santa was on the house. Granted, the first few years of this “Have Your Pet’s Picture Taken with Santa Claus” promo were quite raw by today's standards. For starters, there were no such things as digital cameras back then. An amateur photographer and a Polaroid instant camera provided the service, with unadorned snapshots handed over on the spot to mostly satisfied customers who gushed with gratitude. The experience was considered so unusual and even cool that a not-especially-sharp instant photograph—and nothing else—was something akin to gold, frankincense, and myrrh. And as a holiday conversation piece, it was priceless!

When I put this claim down on paper—that Pet Nosh was the very first retailer to host such an event—my literary agent at the time asked: "Is this true? You know, you shouldn't say so if it's not." I replied: "The Pet Nosh brass conceived the idea. To their knowledge, they weren't plagiarizing anybody else—near or far." Of course, there was no Internet thirty years ago, so we couldn't be absolutely certain that a pet store in Boise, Idaho; Alhambra, California; or Bangor, Maine did not do something similar before Pet Nosh hosted the picture show.

So, Santa Claus coming to Pet Nosh Town for the exclusive benefit of cats, dogs, birds, snakes, lizards, and turtles was either the trailblazer, or certainly among the trailblazing class, ushering in the Pet Parenting Age. It was at once exciting and strange. The very first time Pet Nosh advertised this holiday promotion, we hadn’t a clue what to expect vis-à-vis the turnout. We hadn't a clue how everything would unfold with two-legged and four-legged animals in every nook and cranny of the store. It's no stretch to say that we were more than a bit taken aback when a couple of hundred people with their pets in tow showed up and waited on very, very long lines that actually twisted around a corner into a residential neighborhood—and, on top everything else, in a freezing rain storm just days before Christmas.

(Photo from the personal collection of Nicholas Nigro)

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