Head above water …
Brenda Bartlett has seen the power of the Susquehanna River. With very little warning, the owner of Village Pet Supplies & Gifts in Hanover Twp. saw six feet of water spill into her business in the Dundee Plaza. After the flood waters subsided, Bartlett sold her specialty pet supplies out of a cold trailer in the parking lot of her damaged business. She was only closed for six days. Now Bartlett is back in her building surrounded by inventory and friendly customers popping their heads in to show their excitement and gratitude for the work she has done. Like many other business owners who were, and continue to be, affected by the flood, Bartlett’s story is one of survival, determination and the pure will to overcome the wrath of Mother Nature and get back to serving her customers. Meet Brenda Bartlett…
Did you grow up an animal lover?
I was literally born into a house with cats and dogs. We always always had cats and dogs. As soon as I was on my own, I wanted to start my own little family. At the moment, I have 25 cats and two dogs in my family, and all of them are rescues from various circumstances.
How did you get involved in the pet supply and holistic pet food business?
The more I spoke to people, the more I realized that dogs have a whole slew of health problems and a lot of them are fixed with diet, or caused by poor diet. After hearing about these various issues, I turned my business into that which would take care of animals with these special health needs. I feel passionate about being available to my customers and being responsible to their pets by having the special food that they need. It was unacceptable to me to be closed at any point during any of this mess.
On a typical work day, describe your business before the flood.
I would get here every morning to take care of the foster cats that we sponsor for adoption. Then there is the excitement of unlocking the door to welcome the customers. I deal with terrific people who love their animals and they care deeply about them. I feel like I don’t even have a job. This is my other home. It never feels like work to me. I’m grateful for that all the time.
What was going through your mind as reports of the flood were coming in?
We had very little warning. When they raised the expected crest to 38 feet at 5 p.m. on Wed., Sept. 7, we realized we would get about two feet of water in the store. I couldn’t make sense at first how to handle the situation. Where do you begin? I rounded up a couple of good friends and a couple customers showed up to help because they realized we were going to be in trouble.
We started moving inventory from the store into a tractor-trailer Thursday morning. What a horrible feeling. I saw the river spilling into the side of the parking lot. When I left that day, I didn’t know if I was going to still have a business when I came back. I can’t talk about that day without crying.
After the flood, you still ran your store out of a trailer with no heat. How long did you do this? Can you describe some of your feelings throughout that time?
One of my distributors that I purchase products from supplied us with a Penske truck. We had all the major foods, treats and special edition foods and managed to take care of customers for more than two months.
While working from the truck, were you reflecting back on the flooding or were you looking forward to the task at hand?
The focus was on how we could take care of people that day. I tried not to look back at all because there was nothing to be gained from it. I was always focused forward — planning in my mind how to go about getting us back in here and functioning.
Share some of your thoughts on how the community came together during this terrible time.
Customers showed up with hot chocolate and coffee. People offered to help move back into the building. I could not get over the amount of people who said “thank you” for being there. I wouldn’t have had it any other way. I never had thoughts of not being there for my customers. There were so many people who expressed their gratitude.
Can you leave us with some words of wisdom for other people going through tough times?
I am grateful for every customer who comes to us. I am grateful for everyone who’s walked through these doors and continued to support us. I think that when we can always find the gifts, that no matter what is wrong in our lives, there is way more right. As long as every single day, every minute of every day, you can always keep your focus on all that is right, then nothing feels like the tragedy that it could feel like.
If you always see yourself as surviving any challenge that comes your way, then you always find good in it. There are gifts in absolutely everything that occur in our lives. Even if you don’t find them at the moment, you know in your heart that they are there and they will be revealed at some point. It gives you the strength to get out of bed in the morning and do what you need to do and do it with a smile on your face.
People couldn’t understand why I was smiling through this whole thing. I always try to find everything I’m grateful for in everything, so instead of getting lost in the grief of what occurred to my business, I woke up every morning grateful to have that Penske truck. The weather wasn’t great and we froze, but it was very interesting. I am grateful every single day.
– tom graham
Village Pet Supplies and Gifts is located at 2301 Sans Souci Parkway in Hanover Twp. For news and remodeling updates, visit www.villagepetsupplies.com.