For a business that Barb Ashmead planned to own for only a year, Qualicum Beach Pet Foods has proven remarkably resilient. Now in its 23rd year, the pet shop on First Avenue is perhaps best known by its secondary name: “The little store that gives back to its community.”
“It’s what we’ve all kind of been brought up to do, is to give back,” said Ashmead, who took on Deb Maddocks as partner in 1998. “We probably would have been richer if we never had. But we like what we do.”
The store carries food and treats, as well as all the toys and accessories necessary for dog and cat owners. But Qualicum Pet Foods has become far more than a quick stop-and-shop location. It has also been the home of Qualicum Beach Cat Rescue for the past 12 years, and is the headquarters of Vancouver Island Compassion Dogs, which began four and a half years ago.
Most of the work of running the two additional organizations is done by the two women, on top of the day-to-day operation of the pet shop.
“We built on it,” Ashmead said of the business. “And we continue to build on it. As it expands, we just figure it out. So we work a lot of hours.”
Ashmead and a partner decided to open the store when she took a year off from her studies toward a master’s degree following her father’s death in 1994. They were living in Victoria at the time, and had another couple managing the store.
“The idea was to start it for a year and flip it,” said Ashmead.
But money issues well before the year was out prompted Ashmead to split with her partner, let the store manager go and move to Qualicum Beach to try to stop the bleeding.
“I lived in the back of the store for the first six weeks,” she said. “I had $6,200 in stock. That was it.”
At this time, Maddocks was manager of Coastal Community Credit Union, where Ashmead set up her business account. So the two had known each other for several years when Maddocks walked in and said she was interested in partnering in the pet store.
“I basically told her she was nuts,” Ashmead said. “I said, ‘Do you understand the drop in wages you’re going to take?’”
“Yeah, I had to take a big drop,” Maddocks added with a laugh. “People were shocked. But I was looking around for a business, and I wanted to stay in Qualicum Beach.”
Since teaming up, the two have issued more than 2,500 free spay/neuter certificats through the cat rescue program and have grown Vancouver Island Compassion Dogs from a single client to a 34-team organization matching service dogs with sufferers of post-traumatic stress disorder.
Qualicum Beach Pet Foods is located at 104-166 First Ave. W. The store hours are 9 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. Monday-Friday and 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday, and closed Sunday.