Best of 2013: Little Creatures
“We’re very happy we won,” said Greg Brinser, who co-owns this Santa Barbara institution with his wife Gretchen, buying it seven years ago from the Kernohan family. “We’re happy to be afloat in this economy.” His wife does most of the buying for the store that tries to balance the kind of toys that help kids master the universe around them, with the other kind of toys that help kids stay childishly alive.
FINALIST: CHICKEN LITTLE
Discoveries Learning Center
4519 Hollister Ave., 683-3001
“We have a sense of fun and a sense of community,” explained director Sophia Chang. “And it’s a great community of teachers, parents, and children,” she said of Discoveries’ mission, which is based on the theories of Eric Nelson, stressing outdoor activities enriched with educational vitamins. “We’re the only daycare facility accredited by the National Association for the Education of Young Children,” said Chang.
FINALIST: ORFALEA FAMILY CHILDREN’S CENTER
Children’s Clothing Store
Peanuts Maternity & Kids
9 E. Figueroa St., 618-1640
Owner Nicki Zuchowicz Horne wants people to know where she’s from. “I’m a local,” she said. “I went to Peabody school and Santa Barbara High.” But the reason she and her expertly staffed store wins is a lot more basic than that. “We care; people can tell that when they come in. We listen very carefully and give very individualized help.” The other thing people never guess is that the store has both new clothes and consignment goodies. For parents who don’t get a lot of hand-me-downs, it’s the next best thing.
FINALIST: CHICKEN LITTLE
Dioji K-9 Resort & Athletic Club
“My best guess as to why we win this is our amazing staff,” explained Jeannie Wendel, one of three owners of this popular cross between pet boarding and animal luxury spa. They all work their buns off, they’re all dog lovers, and they love to play with dogs.” Wendel said that in the past, Dioji had dabbled in training, but nowadays just sticks to the basics, taking care of pooches for the people who love them. “You know something? Dogs have a blast here, and we have webcams and we decided to ramp up our service. We take pictures of dogs and then e-mail them to the owners. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard people say they hate to leave their dogs, but getting a picture of them having fun just makes their day.”
FINALIST: ANIMAL INN, CAMP CANINE
Lemos Feed & Pet Supply
“It’s wonderful; we’re super excited to win,” said Lemos store manager Bernadette Rubio. The store, which first opened in Arroyo Grande 41 years ago, arrived in Goleta in 2002 and has been sweeping this award for the last three years. “We strive to provide the best customer service possible,” said Rubio. “We have a great selection, lots of healthy treats, and great prices, too.”
The Little Dog House
5758 Hollister Ave., 964-2446
Annabelle Hofmann is actually surprised to win this year; personnel problems and other headaches made it less than optimal for the 38-year-old shop. But win she did, and all she can say is what she has always maintained about the place. “Dogs are my life. When I’m not here, I have a rescue group. We can groom any kind of dog, and we don’t care if people say they are difficult. We know dogs,” she said.
FINALIST: FOR PAWS SALON
Kids’ Summer Camp
Santa Barbara Zoo, 500 Niños Dr., 962-5339
One of the jewels of this city is its zoo, no matter where you stand on the animal rights issues. Small, humane, and as much used for education as pleasure, the place gets turned over to kids in the summer months as it should. Zoo Camp is more than popular; it’s basically a rite of passage for grammar-school kids lucky enough to have parents that can send their wild things to feed, watch, and learn from other creatures in a bejeweled setting.
San Roque Pet Hospital
3034 State St., 682-2647
Technically, this hospital is part of a larger group of businesses that includes a Montecito pet hospital and a dog rehab center, all under the umbrella of Santa Barbara Veterinary Group. Doctor Dave Dawson is proud of his award and the expanded services they are offering nowadays — and they are going to seven days a week. “It’s hard to say why they voted for us, whether it’s the homeless pet [project] or our taking over a while back when CARE suddenly closed their doors, or if it’s the new rehabilitation center. I don’t know, but I’m glad we can provide compassionate and exceptional care for animals.”
FINALIST: WHITE’S PET HOSPITAL