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Paddywacks expands, ready for economic upswing

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Grand re-opening April 12-19

By Lynn Burton

Sopris Sun Staff Writer

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For R.J. Paddywacks owner Eric Berry, a recent purchase was a telltale indication the local economy is finally headed in the right direction.

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“A man bought a dog-cooling jacket,” Berry told The Sopris Sun on Tuesday. “Usually, that’s something people buy in July … but people now have the money to look ahead. That wasn’t happening a few years ago.”

R.J. Paddywacks Pet Outfitter has sold pet supplies in Orchard Plaza in El Jebel since 1996 and a year before that in the Mid-Valley Design Center. Berry enjoyed a few years of ups (financially and emotionally), followed by downs that started during the nationwide recession of 2008-2009. Just keeping his doors open proved difficult until the last year or so. Berry said if he put his sales on a graph, 2008-2012 was “a perfectly flat line.”

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During those years, Berry faced a “lucky to get a salary kind of thing” and took a cut in pay. His wife Sara, who is an English as a second language teacher at Colorado Mountain College, helped at the store.

Surviving the bad years, the future started looking brighter for at least a couple of reasons. First, fueled by the return of “worker bees” last year that once again have jobs and more money to spend, Berry’s sales graph started pointing north. When Paddywacks’ next door neighbor went out of business in 2013, Berry immediately knew he wanted the space to expand his product line and to also help the store’s “shopability.”

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After putting together a “huge” business plan, U.S. Bank “opened the door” with a loan and Berry’s expansion plans began. He eventually doubled the size of his original 1,200-square-foot store, which once again has open aisles and the return of actual shopping carts.

Adding an upstairs “mezzanine” for his office opened up an extra 100 square feet to sell product. Berry also punched through a garage door in the back of the store so he doesn’t have to receive inventory through a conventional door. Much of that inventory now includes Ranch Way and Purina livestock feed.

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“We get thousands of pounds a week,” he explained. “And now we have a fork lift and pallet jacks.”

Berry, who lives just outside Carbondale on Highway 133, is especially proud of the livestock feed and not just for economic reasons.

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He said when Hyrup’s feed store in El Jebel closed 18 months ago, he contacted long-time owner Steve Hyrup. Hyrup didn’t have any inventory to sell to Berry, but he did have a list of suppliers he was willing to share.

“He (Hyrup) was tickled” someone would want to keep selling feed.

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“It (selling feed) is a legacy in this part of the valley’s culture … it’s something that needs to be supported.”

As for other improvements and additions at R.J. Paddywacks, the number of fish tanks has been increased to 16 and products have been added to all the store’s lines. As anyone who has shopped at R.J. Paddywacks knows, Berry and long-time employee Dave Gardner like to have fun with their customers. Now that the store has twice as much space and more product selections, “ .. it’s an experience going into R.J. Paddywacks.”

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