It was one of the most heartbreaking trips I’ve ever had to take; what was in actuality a twenty-minute drive appeared to last for hours. By the time I’d pulled into the parking lot of Hollywood Feed my heart was at its heaviest that day and my eyes nearly swollen shut from sobbing all the way there.
“Hi, can I help you with anything today?” the store associate asked from behind the counter.
“Yes, please. My dog is dying and I need to get this food, this special food all dogs really like.”
I just stood there staring at her, feeling the tears fall down my cheeks and trying my best to keep the ugly cry at bay- because mine is extraordinarily ugly. And I kept apologizing because I felt like a crazy person with an inability to keep my emotions intact in front a stranger but then this “stranger” said, “Let me help you.” It wasn’t what she said, it was the way in which she said it that I knew her help wasn’t merely about taking a can of food off the shelf but about standing next to me on one of my darkest days and understanding why my heart was breaking- without my having to explain.
When I visited the store again two days later to return the unused portion of food, the same associate was there. Before I could get the words out, she knew. “I’m so sorry,” she said as I silently slid the cans across the counter. My nods to her were indicative of both my inability to say anything in return and to tell her I felt the sincerity in her voice, the empathy that transpired in her every movement during our silence. I left that day with a better understanding of why Hollywood Feed expresses to its applicants, “Loving pets is required, retail experience is not.” Arguably, efficient stocking and basic customer service skills can be taught without much investment of heart; empathy and compassion are nurtured only when the heart is invested in doing so. What began as a pet supply store on the corner of Hollywood Street and Chelsea Avenue here in Memphis is now a chain specializing in natural and holistic pet food and supplies, with locations in nine states. Its heart is invested in every, single one of them.
$10,000 was donated for a dog park in Ross Barnett Reservoir, Mississippi; $21,000 worth of agility equipment was gifted to the Hound Mound at Heritage Park in Texas. A “You Buy We Give” program, in which Hollywood Feed matched customers’ product purchases, supplied homeless pets with toys, treats, grooming products, and a local humane society “enough dog food that could feed 10 medium-sized dogs for a year.” Additionally, the company donates over 100,000 pounds of dog food every year and hosts countless adoption events with local shelters and rescue agencies.
Gifts come in many different forms and sizes. Some are large, concrete, and require advance discussion of logistics, such as the delivery of thousands of pounds of dog food. Others are small, abstract, and spur-of-the-moment, such as an authentic uttering of “I’m so sorry” to someone whose silence conveys what words cannot. With the recent opening of its first stand-alone store “built from the ground up” in Memphis, Hollywood Feed continues to grow as a company: there are now 67 locations. Its contributions to our communities is growing as well and therein is the irony that, in many ways, a pet store is poised to become man’s best friend.
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