Winter Garden resident Kim Pitchford-Dannenberg, owner of Gracie’s of Winter Garden, and Kodak, one of the store’s official greeters, welcome customers to the natural and holistic shop.
After years of thinking natural varieties too expensive, people generally bypass holistic dog or cat food and reach for the bargain brands found on grocery-store shelves. According to Kim Pitchford-Dannenberg, owner of Gracie’s of Winter Garden, pet owners who chose the cheaper route ultimately end up spending more money.
“Most of the food you find in the grocery or big-box stores are full of fillers, byproducts and additives,” Kim said. “There are very little nutrients absorbed by the pet, so they tend to eat more, and it ends up as waste in the yard.”Natural food also can ward off potential health problems, which could mean fewer trips to the veterinarian.Kim, an avid pet lover, understands the importance of feeding pets a healthy diet. One of her two Newfoundlands was born with a poor immune system.
“[My dog] Nykon is a walking miracle,” said Kim, who was a loyal customer of the former Gracie’s Bone Appetit in Winter Garden. “I truly believe the natural diet and supplements he has been on his entire life has contributed to his longevity and quality of life.”When Gracie’s original owner decided to move out of state, she approached Kim with an offer to buy the business. Hesitant at first, Kim soon realized she could live her passion — animals and people.In November 2009, Kim purchased the business, changed the name to Gracie’s of Winter Garden, and relocated to a quaint, white clapboard house on Dillard Street. Not only was it a perfect atmosphere to set up a hometown business, it also had personal significance, as it was the house where her mother was born. With just 10 days to get the interior space ready for retail, Kim was able to open the doors to Gracie’s on Dec. 1 of that same year.Gracie’s can be found by looking for the big blue dog bone positioned on the exterior of the building. Plenty of parking is available in a back lot, which also leads to the store’s entrance.Pet lovers who shop at Gracie’s are more than just customers to Kim — many have become her friends.“I try to remember the names of my customers and get to know them,” said Kim, who believes it is important to develop a trusting, friendly relationship with her clients.A longtime Winter Garden resident, Kim has strong ties to Southwest Orlando and believes in the importance of supporting local, independent business owners. Kim takes that same approach with her pet food distributors. Because of the relationship of mutual respect she has built with the sales representatives, her customers ultimately benefit.“I ask a lot of questions when we consider putting an item in the store,” she said. “I want to know everything I can about the product so I can educate my customers.”For some, it can be overwhelming to determine the right type of healthy pet food or supplement. However, Kim tries to make sense of it all for her clients.“I immediately ask if the pet has any health problems or concerns, how old the pet is, and the customer’s price point,” she said. “Then I can usually narrow it down to three different choices.”Samples of food are always given at no charge. And Kim encourages clients to “try before they buy.”Kim was quick to add that she never diagnoses an animal.“If someone describes symptoms or chronic health problems, I immediately tell them to consult a vet,” she said.In addition to dry and wet pet food, Gracie’s offers raw pet food. Four large freezers contain a variety of options for those who prefer this food type.Gracie’s main inventory consists of holistic food and treats; however, Kim does have an impressive offering of all-natural supplements, shampoos, toys, leashes, collars and flea repellent.Since Gracie’s is not a franchise, Kim has the flexibility to control what she sells.“If I don’t believe in a product, I won’t put in on my shelves,” she said. “My foods have no fillers, byproducts or gluten.“Some people think that any pet food made with grain is bad, but just like human food, there are good grains, such as brown rice, millet, barley and oatmeal,” Kim said.Gracie’s is the only pet food store in the Greater Orlando area that carries Canine Caviar dog food. Canine Caviar offers a complete dehydrated raw meat diet in dry kibble form. It is easily digested and helps reduce itching, scratching, shedding and hot spots.Another product exclusive in the area to Gracie’s is Flea Free. The all-natural garlic-and vinegar-based product acts as a deterrent to fleas and ticks without using dangerous poisons or harmful chemicals. The basic ingredients of Flea Free are vinegar, garlic, citrus and herbs. Flea Free also is a food supplement that can be easily administered by sprinkling on a pet’s food.Kim does whatever she can to satisfy her customer’s pet needs. If someone has a special request, she will try to get the product.All first-time customers who mention the Gracie’s ad in Southwest Orlando Bulletin receive a 10 percent discount on their purchase.Gracie’s holds events periodically that benefit local animal shelters and foster services. On June 18, the store will host a donation dog wash and pet adoption day from 9a.m.-1 p.m. Proceeds will benefit South Lake Animal League, a no-kill shelter that does not receive any state or federal funding.Despite difficult economic times, Kim has continued to build a steady and loyal following.“Getting the word out that we are here is probably the biggest challenge,” she said. “Once people come in the door, they love it here. We have a lot of fun, and we maintain a very positive, friendly atmosphere.”Gracie’s of Winter Garden is located at 220 S. Dillard St. in Winter Garden. Operating hours are Monday through Friday from 10 a.m.-6 p.m. and Saturday from 9 a.m.-5 p.m. For more information, call 407-654-6169 or visit www.graciesofwintergarden.com on the Web.
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