“We’re pretty much operating like normal, except for grooming,” Jose Navarro said, head groomer and brother of Alley Pets owner, Alex Navarro. “We’ve stopped while we figure out a safer way to handle pets without too much interaction between us and the customer for their safety and ourselves.”

Alley Pets is a miss-it-if-you-blink pet retail shop sandwiched between Smart & Final and the shaded public parking lot off Cactus Lane. They offer grooming (though currently on hold) and feed for cats, dogs, horses, chickens, pigs—you name it. Luckily, this essential business is operating under normal hours and is happy to help you between 9 a.m. and 4:30 p.m.  

For Alex, his business is unique because of the number of products they carry, especially for a small space. “We carry more brands than some big stores. We try to do a little bit of everything,” he said. And if you can’t find what you need, the Navarros are happy to order it for you. One of the secrets to running a business is knowing how to adjust operations when needed. For example, during the pandemic, Alex and Jose wear masks and gloves and sanitize surfaces and counters after each customer visit.

The way Alley Pets is adjusting to the new normal is similar to how Alex acquired the business in the first place—just going with the flow. “I needed a job and started working for the original owners,” he said. “About five years after working for them, they offered to sell me the store.”

For 20 years now, Alex and his family have run the small-but-mighty pet supply store. On any given day, you’ll find his brother in the back, his dad helping tidy up outside, and cousins working behind the counter. Which bring us to Alex’s most important trade secret for running a successful small business: keeping it family run. “Having my family here to help is the key to our success,” said Alex. “When you have employees, they help. But with family, they try a little harder because they understand.” Even before Alex took over, Alley Pets was owned by a Carpinteria family.

Alex’s business advice to others is to save money for when business is slow. “I try to use just what I need and save as much as I can. Sometimes I can save more and sometimes, less.” Word-of-mouth is how most of his customers find the shop and with about 60 to 70 customers per week, mostly regulars, Alley Pets stays busy. If Alex could give advice to his younger self, it would be to make smarter buying decisions and if there’s one thing he can’t stress enough, it’s maintaining a friendly relationship with each person who walks through the door.

“Be kind to your customers, those who work for you, and your sales reps,” Alex said. “Be nice to everybody.”

As Alex finished the interview, one customer walked out of the shop saying, “This place is the best! Nine dollars for a nail trim and it only takes five minutes,” she said. “Plus, they are so kind. You can’t beat it!”

Alley Pets is located at 890 Cactus Lane. Phone in your order for curbside pickup at (805) 684-9988.  

Megan Waldrep is a columnist and freelance writer, currently living on a 34-foot sailboat. To learn more about Megan, visit meganwaldrep.com.

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