Longstanding Squirrel Hill pet store moving to Sharpsburg
After 50 years, Sara’s Pets and Plants — previously Alan’s Pets and Plants — is leaving Squirrel Hill.
The last day of business at the Murray Avenue store in Squirrel Hill was Oct. 5. Owner Sara Smith said she plans to open the new location, at 908 Main St. in Sharpsburg, in November.
Smith took over the longstanding pet store a year ago at just 24 years old. Alan Cohen had owned the business for over 49 years.
“The rent and the renovations are way more than I expected,” Smith said.
High renovation costs and building permit issues solidified her decision to move.
The Sharpsburg location is being updated with brand-new walls, flooring, and heating, ventilation and air conditioning, so Smith anticipates a smooth transition.
Smith sees Sharpsburg as a great place to start the next phase of her business. Not only does she live there, but it’s also an area that is becoming increasingly welcoming to new business owners.
“The only reason I did Sharpsburg, or even thought about it, is because so many people were like ‘please, please, please, please move here,’ ” Smith said.
The new location is significantly smaller — only 1,000 square feet of floor space, compared to the Squirrel Hill location’s 3,800 square feet.
“I think having a smaller space will be much more manageable and I won’t be going crazy,” she said.
Smith said the decision to move has been the biggest challenge of an otherwise successful first year in business.
“It has ups and downs, obviously, like any first year of business. But I’ve had a lot of positive feedback from customers,” Smith said.
Customer Anita Buzzy-Prentiss of Swisshelm Park remembers when Smith took over the store in 2018.
“I was very excited to go in and see some new fresh energy,” Buzzy-Prentiss said. “She was really positive and made a lot of new, nice changes.”
The store’s customer loyalty is strong. Earlier this month Smith posted a request on Facebook for volunteers to foster about 50 animals for the month of October. Within two hours, all of the animals — including a Savannah monitor and a bearded dragon — had been claimed.
Smith added several new touches to the business, including grooming, children’s birthday parties, and educational programming. Her first school program was at St. Edmund’s Academy in Squirrel Hill last spring.
“I bring my animals in, I talk about them — biology, how to take care of them, conservation — things like that,” Smith said of the program. She intends on building a more robust educational program to accommodate the requests she already receives from schools.
“I want to get a real, legitimate program in place,” Smith said.
After she took over the store, Smith made the decision to start rescuing its animals, rather than buying them from breeders.
“I wasn’t sure if I’d be able to be 100% rescue, and I didn’t know when,” Smith said. Luckily, the change was easier than anticipated. “It only took about a month or two,” she said.
In September, she had over 100 pets for sale, including exotic reptiles, birds, cats, small mammals and fish, almost all of which were rescued.
Smith’s ultimate goal is to open a two-part organization: a nonprofit pet rescue, and a storefront to find the animals new homes and provide educational programming about animals and conservation.
“I hope to zone in on what I really want to do, which is rescue animals and do education,” Smith said.