The Pets of Lincoln Downtown Businesses

Three years ago, an article appeared on the Downtown Lincoln Association’s newsletter about the pets of downtown businesses. It was the brainchild of Gabriella Martinez-Garro, marketing coordinator for DLA.

“Working for the Downtown Lincoln Association has a lot of perks,” said Martinez-Garro, “especially getting to know the ins and outs of the neighborhood.” Martinez-Garro loves meeting business owners and telling their stories through the association’s newsletter.

As a dog owner, Martinez-Garro is always looking for dog-friendly places to take her dogs, and wanted to create a list for other dog owners to easily access. “The response has been overwhelmingly positive,” said Martinez-Garro. “Many people have utilized our list and been grateful for the guide.”

Martinez-Garro’s research led her to also spotlight the pets of downtown, believing that they deserved to be profiled due to being favorites of customers. To find downtown’s furry friends, Martinez-Garro contacted businesses contacted businesses that she knew had resident pets. At the end of each interview, Martinez-Garro asked the owners if they knew of other downtown businesses with resident pets.

Although Martinez-Garro isn’t aware of any downtown businesses that welcome cats, she told me that there’s more than one business with resident cats. A Novel Idea and Trade-A-Comic are two such businesses that she included in her article. The profiles, Martinez-Garro said, have been well-received. “People loved to read about the pets they often see in their favorite downtown businesses.”

Photo from Bluestem Books

Inspired by Martinez-Garro’s article and my own visits to businesses with pets, I conducted a few of my own interviews.

Thirty-four years ago, Scott and Pat Wendt opened Bluestem Books in a former warehouse. After discovering a number of resident mice, they added a kitten that they named “Thurber” to the staff. “We don’t believe Thurber ever actually harmed a mouse,” Pat shared, “but the population decided to move on.” Over the next 17 years, Thurber made hundreds of friends—and won the “Employee of the Month” award 206 times.

Photo from Bluestem Books

A few years after Thurber died, the Wendts created a Customer Relations Department. In charge of it they put a small, fluffy puppy named Don Diego. “Like Thurber the cat, Don Diego also won hundreds of hearts during his 2005-2016 career,” Wendt said. Don Diego, a Havenese who’s named after Zorro, made sure to greet each customer who enters Bluestem and could often be seen sporting baby socks to help reduce the symptoms of his seasonal allergies.

After losing Don Diego to bladder cancer, the Wendts hadn’t planned on adding another pet to the staff, but life surprised them when Miss Maribel joined the bookstore a year ago as a trainee. Miss Maribel is a Havanese too and Don Diego’s grand niece.

Photo from Bluestem Books

Like her predecessors, Miss Maribel has brought happiness to an ever-widening circle of friends. “Well-behaved animals in the workplace can be a source of love and happiness for employees and customers,” explained Pat.

Since 1976, there’s been some kind of dog at State Printing. For 42 years, staff and customers have been treated to the presence of a cocker spaniel, black retriever, and four German Shepherd at the privately-owned company. The two current German Shepherds are nine-year-old sisters, bought from a rural breeder in Nebraska.

When I asked owner Lonnie Simpson why he brings dogs to work with him, he replied, “This isn’t being smart…. but we bring them because we can.” Simpson said most of the customers enjoy seeing the dogs and ask about them, while the rest don’t care and ignore them.

Occasionally, a customer even forgets the dogs are there. Simpson told of one long-term customer who came to the business after a long absence. He’d forgotten about the dogs. When the dogs barked, they startled him, and he said, “I need to go home and change my pants.”

Katie (L), Kirby (R)
Photo from Trade-A-Tape Comic Center: Katie (L), Kirby (R)

Trade-A-Tape Comic Center has had a resident cat in its business since 2006. Katie was found in a downtown alley in sub-zero temperatures one February. Despite being a street cat, she allowed herself to be carried and petted. Her friendliness led owner Larry Lorenz to believe she’d been abandoned by previous owners, and so he gave her a new home.

John Doan, an employee, said that Katie sleeps a lot and loves attention. “She’ll often come right up to customers begging to be petted,” said Doan.

Unknown to Lorenz at the time he rescued Katie, she was pregnant with three kittens. One of the kittens died and another was adopted by a friend, but Herbie remained at the comic book store. Doan described him as having, “a unique personality—grumpy yet needy, brave yet hiding at the oddest thing. Kirby is very affectionate with some people, and stand offish to others.”

According to Doan, most of Trade-A-Tape Comic Center’s customers love the cats. “Kids get excited upon seeing them and often rush up to pet them,” said Doan. “We always advise asking us beforehand though, for safety reasons.”

Doan added that the Trade-A-Tape Comic Center staff enjoy when a customer picks up Katie up and walks around the store with her in their arms. “Katie seems right at home then, purring and content,” said Doan.

Photo from Downtown Lincoln Association
Photo from Downtown Lincoln Association

For this article, I also contacted Burlington Antiques. At the time of Gabriella Martinez-Garro’s article, Jeff and Diane Cunningham owned a ten-year-old dog named Max, whom they had adopted from the Capital Humane Society. They had assigned their dog Max to act as the Canine Executive Officer (CEO) of their thirty-year-old business. Martinez-Garro described Max as a friendly dog, who especially loved kids and had a fondness for customers who gave him treats. Unfortunately, Max passed away in June of this year. The Cunninghams still miss him, and haven’t gotten another dog.

As noted in her article, “For many downtown businesses that house animals, this relationship extends beyond the owner and to the customers as well … Each adds a unique element to the stores they call home.”

To read more about downtown’s furry friends, check out of Gabriella Martinez-Garro’s article, which includes additional profiles.

If you own a Lincoln business with a resident pet, Lincoln Animal Ambassadors would love to hear from you for a follow-up article.

To find dog-friendly downtown Lincoln businesses, check out the Downtown Lincoln Association’s list. For a list that includes dog-and-cat friendly places in Lincoln, see Lincoln Animal Ambassadors’ list.

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