Family-owned pet shop to replace corporate chain in downtown Farmington

When the Tolonen family moved to the area about eight years ago, Angela, the mom, remembers walking around downtown Farmington, looking around and wondering if downtown could support a pet store. It turns out that she wasn’t the only one. Pet Valu, a corporate chain of pet stores, would open in 2018.

She was, as she puts it, “kicking herself.”

But late last year, Pet Valu announced that it was closing its Farmington location. It wouldn’t be the only one. A casualty of the COVID-19 pandemic, according to reports at the time, Pet Valu announced the closing of 358 stores and warehouses across the Northeast and Midwest and the corporate headquarters in Wayne, Pennsylvania.

“When the closing signs went up, I thought, well, here’s my second chance. From my perspective, I saw a busy store and I was surprised that it was closing,” Angela says. “Then I found out that the store closing was more of a corporate decision and didn’t reflect that particular store’s success. So that was good news.”

The Dog wash is “very popular with people that live within walking distance to the store,” says Angela Tolonen.Angela has made good on her daydream. Work is currently underway on the opening of the Tolonen Family Pet Shop, a full-service pet store with food, treats, toys, equipment, and dog grooming services. Utilizing infrastructure left behind by the old Pet Valu chain, the Tolonen Family Pet Shop will continue the popular dog wash services, too.

“With the old Pet Valu space, the dog wash was very popular. We want to keep the things that the community really enjoyed and then offer more customized services that you might not be able to get from a corporate entity,” she says.

To do so, Angela has been posting on social media, asking the community what brands and products they’d like to see the store carry. There have been some favorites offered, Angela says, but a few surprises, too, like fun bird toys and “plenty of feed crickets.”

There’s a reason why “Family” is in the store name. Angela’s engineer husband has been putting his logistics skills to use, designing the layout of the store and making sure that everything is set up efficiently. Their eldest daughter will be managing the day-to-day operations; she’s almost finished with grooming classes and will run the groom room, too. The middle daughter will be working part-time while she finishes school, and the youngest daughter has enthusiastically taken on coming up with color schemes and designs, Angela says. “She wants everything to be beautiful.”

“Our daughters have really been working hard on getting everything painted, getting the shelves set up, picking out the store t-shirts. Making the logo was definitely a big group effort,” Angela says.

“It’s been fun, building this and doing it together.”

The Tolonens have always instilled a love of animals in their children. Angela says that the kids had just about every critter you can have growing up, though she did reject their requests for monkeys and flying squirrels.

This is the first business for the Tolonens; Angela works in the healthcare industry by day. They hope to succeed by filling the void left by Pet Valu while adding value themselves in being more responsive to the community’s needs. And her posts to social media have given her plenty of good ideas. She learned about the Lake Orion-based Healthy Dogma pet food brand that way, she says. She’s learned, too, that with people staying home more because of COVID-19, feeding birds is a hobby that has gained in popularity. As a result, plenty of bird seed will now be available.

Keeping the dog wash stations should help. Located at the front of the store, the three self-service dog wash stations invite people to wash their dogs in the store. Tolonen Family Pet Shop will provide the shampoo and towels.

“It’s very popular with people that live within walking distance to the store,” she says.

The service is so popular that the pet store has opened up the dog wash stations ahead of the store’s actual opening. The shop itself won’t officially open until sometime in mid-April.

“The thing I like most about downtown Farmington is that it’s very family-oriented. It’s not a downtown where it’s only adult activities. Riley Park, the farmers market — even walking around at night is great for families,” Angela says.

“I’m just really excited for my kids to take bigger roles in the store. As the other two get older, I would love for this to be something that all three can have to run and own together. And who knows, maybe there could be more stores down the road.

“I see this as a family-to-family service for the community.”

Tolonen Family Pet Shop is located at 23320 Farmington Rd. in downtown Farmington.
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MJ Galbraith is a writer and musician living in Detroit. Follow him on Twitter @mikegalbraith.