One year ago, we signed a lease on our space at 155 E. 2nd Street in the East Village. Happy birthday, School For The Dogs 2.0!
School For The Dogs 1.0 was located in Gramercy in what was once the living room of my apartment. Because, really, who wouldn’t want to have a dog training studio in their apartment? I’d sometimes find myself stepping in crumbs of lamb lung while getting out of the shower, and vacuuming was pretty much an hourly duty. But it was great — at least our clients seemed to think so! The dogs who lived in the building would scratch at my door to get in every time the were in the hallway–the opposite of playing hooky. PLEASE LET US MATRICULATE!
We were there for over a year, and we had so many good times. It was the kind of cozy, crazy makeshift space that sort of harkened back to what I imagine to be an earlier era of Manhattan businesses. Complete opposite end of the spectrum than, say, PetCo.
We would’ve happily stayed there buuuuuuut, then everything went up in flames. Literally. On the evening of December 29, 2013, a freak electrical fire started in the wall of my apartment. Fortunately there was no class going on at the time. I scooped up my cat and dog and bolted.
Everyone in the building was okay, but the building was seriously damaged. It took over a year for them to make it habitable again.
The business and I were both suddenly homeless. I was happy to stay with friends while I sorted things out, but School For The Dogs could not sleep on a sofa. We reverted to doing only in-home sessions, and then started teaching classes at a dog daycare, which is what most dog trainers in New York City do. But we’d been spoiled by having our own training space, and the sounds and smells of daycare dogs in the next room during our classes was irksome. What had been nice about our space, among other things, was that it was a comfy place for humans to learn along with dogs; it was a room you didn’t mind hanging out in for an hour. But rare is the person who would want to spent time in a fluorescent-lighted basement dog daycare without being paid to do so.
The idea of opening a storefront space in New York City had seemed like a faraway goal to me and Kate. It was a dream that we couldn’t manage coming to fruition anytime soon. Kate, who is generally the Desi to my Lucy, told me to stop thinking about it, but I couldn’t help being drawn to every “For Rent” sign I saw. Would it hurt to maybe just look at places? Maybe it’s something we really could do now?
When a real estate broker who I had contacted brought us to see a step down storefront Chinese massage place in the East Village, my first response was, “No way.” The place was dark and smelled like an ashtray. There were cockroaches running from under the stair treads. Inside, the space was divided into rooms by thin pieces of ply wood and sheets hanging from clothes pins. I couldn’t imagine how it could possibly transmogrify into something suitable. But Kate and her dad, who is an architect, had vision.
So, we met with the co-op board. Worried that a building wouldn’t want a place with dogs coming in and out all day, we wanted to make a great impression. So, Kate and I dressed to impress– blazers, blowdried hair, dog-hair free jeans– only to find that the board was made up of super low key, friendly old-school New Yorkers, among them a former Coney Island’s former tattooed man, Eak the Geek. They thought the idea of a school for dogs was pretty darn cool.
I ran the numbers. If our business continued to do as well as it had been pre-fire… could we make it work? Our accountant (whose business is called Dollars & Scents — seriously) was skeptical. “You could possibly do it if you had $30,000 going in,” she said. She said this in a way that implied “And I know you do not have $30,000 to spare.”
True… But, thanks to an insurance check we received after the fire, we dive have about a third of that. For the rest, we turned to our clients, friends and family, put together a video about our story, and started an Indigogo campaign. A month later, we had the funds we needed.
We are a year into this now, and everyday, we feel so lucky to have found such an amazing space. Thanks to everyone who made this happen!
155 East 2nd Street, May 2014:
John Senisi, Kate’s dad (above) plotted out how to turn a rundown acupuncture/massage hovel into New York’s preeminent dog training school.
155 E. 2nd Street, May 2015: