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Firefighters suit up outside Clark Feed & Seed to extinguish a fire that broke out on July 17, 2019. // Photo by Zack Jimenez By Ella Banken After two Bellingham feed and seed businesses were destroyed by separate fires this year, a former employee is working to bring those services back to the community. Neighboring stores Hohl Feed and Seed and Clark’s Feed and Seed, located in downtown Bellingham, were devastated by fires nearly five months apart.  “We lost two of our favorite stores in the community that did awesome things for pets and their people, and I want to bring that back to the area,” Dobby Crouson, former general manager of Clark’s Feed and Seed, said The new business, called PNW Pets, will offer many products and services similar to Clark’s, and will carry a wider variety of animals including small mammals and reptiles, Crouson said. Another key difference is all the animals will be rescues.  “Any animal that we have in the store will be from a local rescue organization,” Crouson said. “We are not going to be purchasing animals from breeders to sell, we will be facilitating adoption.” Crouson worked at Clark’s Feed and Seed for about two years before the fire on Wednesday, July 17, according to Crouson. It was her intention to buy the business from the owner, Larry Oltmann, when he retired. “When the fire happened, I lost the opportunity to buy that store, so we shot in full speed ahead to starting our own,” Crouson said.  The absence of Hohl and Clark’s is noticeable in the community. Employees at several businesses surrounding the vacant storefronts claim that they are asked every day what happened, including Alexandria Scott, an employee at Cresswell Boggs, another Railroad Avenue business.  “People ask what happened all the time, and also if they will reopen somewhere else,” Scott said. “Both pet stores closing in the span of months, was so disappointing.” “I got all my dog treats and toys there, they had better all-natural options than Petco,” Scott said, “I hate Petco.” With the loss of two feed and seed stores in a short period of time, there was a sudden demand for pet supplies in the downtown community.  After discussing her plan with Clark’s owner and received support, Crouson immediately wrote up a business plan, she said. Several former Clark’s employees will be joining her at the new business once it opens, Crouson said.  According to Crouson, she already has a location for the new business. Although she is unable to disclose the exact address, she assures that it is still in Bellingham proper.  “It's in a great spot, so people can get to us and not have to pay for parking!” Crouson said, laughing. Funding has been the biggest challenge for getting the business going, Crouson said. She is working with a few investors who are established Bellingham business owners and  organizations to coordinate fundraising. Organizations include the NW Innovation Resource Center and the Small Business Development Center at Western  “We are completely ready to go, except for the funding” Crouson said. “My hope was to be open already … it could be anywhere from another month to several months.” According to Lara Merriam-Smith, program manager at NWIRC, in order for small businesses to survive, it is critical that they are able to serve their customers needs well. NWIRC works with entrepreneurs to develop plans and strategies for opening their own businesses.  “Filling a void that can’t be met through a giant online retailer, if you can find that, it's good,” Merriam-Smith said. “Especially here in Whatcom County, people have a desire to try and serve local businesses.”

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