New York’s landmark Tammany Hall building, once home to one of the most powerful political institutions in city history, has opened its doors to welcome furry, four-legged visitors that might be more loyal than a ward boss.
Petco, a San Diego-based pet supplies and services retailer with more than 1,500 locations, opened a two-story, 25,000-square-foot flagship store at 44 Union Square, or what’s known as Tammany Hall, on Thursday.
The store, one of Petco’s largest in the United States, is at the intersection of Park Avenue and East 17th Street and combines the best of the retailer’s physical and digital offerings, including a grooming salon, full-service pet hospital, and kitchen that makes fresh dog food on the spot.
The store aims to evoke an intimate, warm and upscale marketplace atmosphere that’s distinctly different from a typical fluorescent light-lit Petco shop marked by plain vanilla shelves and racks in a strip center. A design executive for the chain said it’s part of an intentional effort, also seen in other types of commercial real estate, to win customers by treating their pets more like people.
And it may be a sign of things to come for household pets across the country: Petco plans to incorporate elements of the Manhattan flagship into its future store designs, executives told CoStar News.
However, Petco isn’t the only one trying to capitalize on this market and competes with many other major retailers like Petsmart and e-commerce companies like Chewy.
Tree canopies and an open-air farmer’s market design aims to replicate the look and feel of Union Square park and its popular farmer’s market across Park Avenue with dog-treat carts modeled after New York’s popular hot dog stands. Design details such as exposed brick and cast-iron staircase, meanwhile, aim to pay nod to the historic building and the city.
The neo-Georgian building, built in 1928-29, is the only surviving headquarters of Tammany Hall, the Democratic Party machine that dominated New York City politics in the 19th and early-20th centuries, according to a New York City Landmarks Preservation Commission report in 2013 when it designated the building its landmark status.
The building also was home at one point to Off-Broadway theater, housing the Roundabout Company, as well as to the New York Film Institute, according to the commission’s report.
The design team was responsible for creating a pet store like no other pet store in the world, Rick Neira, vice president of visual merchandising, store design and merchandise operations at Petco, told CoStar News.
We “envisioned that …. you can come in here, and it’s not just about shopping. It’s an experience. That’s the design intent that we have,” Neira said.
That experience includes a photo booth, a harness fitting station for dogs of different sizes or a customization area for pet owners to personalize their pet gear. One of the most telling examples is a pet grooming salon, right by the entryway and can be seen through the store window from outside as well, that’s designed to look like an upscale barber salon with a shop chair for pet owners to photograph their beloved pet children in.
“It’s part of the humanization trend in animals,” Neira told CoStar News. “It’s like giving them services that are on par with human services. It’s a human grade salon for pets.”
Petco’s Manhattan flagship opening comes as U.S. pet industry spending is expected to reach another record high of nearly $144 billion this year after sales rose almost 11% to a record high of $136.8 billion last year. That was led by a 16.2% jump in spending on pet foods and treats, according to the American Pet Products Association. Its 2023-2024 survey found 66% of U.S. households own a pet, equaling 86.9 million households.
“As economic uncertainty persists, the pet industry remains strong and resilient, with consumers nationwide prioritizing pet ownership and a commitment to their pets’ health and happiness,” the APPA said in a statement in March. While it expects pet ownership that’s seen a boost during the pandemic to “normalize and return to pre-pandemic levels,” it said “all signs continue to point to the strength of the industry.”
The spending increase also comes as consumers increasingly see their pets as part of their family members with the growing pet humanization trend driving global demand for “premium” pet care products, market research firm Edge by Ascential has said.
The pet humanization trend also can be seen in a survey from apartment owner Cortland that shows buildings’ pet policies hold big sway, more so than other factors like cost and location, in where people decide to rent.
The Union Square store “brings to life the humanization and premiumization trends shaping the pet space,” Petco Chief Operating Officer Justin Tichy said in a statement on Thursday.
Petco’s customers have taken notice. Ailis Fernandez, a high school student buying food for her family dog during the store’s soft opening Wednesday, said she “was really surprised” with the new store, which was relocated from a long-time Petco at 860 Broadway that the retailer just closed. “They make it feel much more welcoming,” Fernandez said in an interview. “It’s so much nicer. It’s like a Gucci Petco.”