Pooch promenade: New mall goes to the dogs

Charlottesville shoppers, prepare yourself– two new shopping centers will soon be unleashed on Richmond just a hop, skip, and jump down I-64. In addition to similar names– Short Pump Town Center and Stony Point Fashion Park– both will have open-air construction and both will open in September.

So what's the difference? Only one will allow dogs.

Although Short Pump Town Center on West Broad Street– at 1.2 million square feet and just an hour from here is the larger and more convenient destination for Charlottesvillians, canine-crazy residents may be willing to drive an extra half-hour. That's because the 690,000 square-foot Stony Point is fido-friendly.

Located just south of the James River, Stoney Point will allow dogs not only outside in the courtyards and patio areas, but also inside anchor store Saks Fifth Avenue. While this may seem like a novel development, Saks has, in fact, been dog friendly for nearly 80 years– since 1924 when the first store opened in Manhattan.

But what about doggy poop? Fleas? Barking? Biting? Allergies? Not every potential customer is eager to share the aisles with canines.

"The dog hair alone would be enough to make me stay away," says Charlottesvillian Jennifer Niesslein, editor of BrainChild magazine. "Anyone who has a dog knows that it gets everywhere, and if I'm paying for a nice sweater, it's sure not going to be for a wool/Golden Retriever blend."

Carolyn Foreman, director of the Charlottesville Albemarle SPCA, agrees that clothing could be compromised. "I would hate to see a nice dress get wee-weed on," she laughs.

On a more serious note, she says her real concern would be with "animals being close to each other... you don't know anything about their shot history; you don't know if they're contagious or aggressive."

But she can also see the positive side. "I think it's a very forward-thinking concept," she explains. "I'd like to see more animals in the work place, and more people embracing what they give back to us."

According to Michael Macko, director of publicity for Saks, dogs in the store have never been an issue. Owners, he explains, are ultimately responsible for their pet's behavior.

"If a dog was creating a problem, or another customer was allergic," Macko says, "we would ask the owner to bring the dog to another part of the store, hold the dog for them, or bring the merchandise to them."

What about the inevitable "accidents"?

Macko's not worried. "Most people who travel with their dogs are very conscientious about things like that," he says. "People who bring their dogs to stores come equipped, but if they're not, store maintenance will be ready to help them out."

And, of course, all dogs must be on leashes or in carriers, in accordance with state law. In addition, Macko says, the store carries ample insurance to cover any problems that might arise.

Despite Macko's assurances, some potential customers will inevitably avoid buying their Hermes alongside a hound. But many others will be overjoyed to bring mutts to the mall.

"I think that's wonderful!" exclaims Greene County dog lover Emmett Boaz, owner of a boxer named Cassius. "My 'friend' goes with me everywhere, and now I can take him shopping!"