In Spot’s Spot in Northern Liberties on a recent Thursday afternoon, Raven, a herding dog, glances up to eye the newcomer from her repose in front of the counter. She’s the shop dog.
Magda, a toy poodle, stands on a table in the hot-pink grooming salon, while Krissy Lenar applies polka-dot feathers to the dog’s ears.
It’s a compact space, the size of an apartment living room, with three grooming tables poised next to silver stools for the stylists. A staircase leads to the spa in the basement.
Philip Stevenson has owned Spot’s Spot on Girard Avenue, a few storefronts down from the elevated train tracks, since 2011. He sometimes works 11 hours a day, seven days a week, and lives in the apartment upstairs.
“It’s a blessing and a curse,” said Stevenson, an out groomer. He said it simplifies his life to live and work in the same place, but it does mean he thinks about work all the time.
“When you own your own business, you work more than you’ve ever worked,” he said. “But it’s worth it because you really get to see the fruit of your labors.”
Stevenson grew up on a farm owned by his paternal grandparents in Vincentown, N.J. He lived there with his grandparents, parents and five younger brothers. Stevenson took charge of managing all the animals from dogs, rabbits and guinea pigs to goats, chickens and pigs.
“I’m drawn to all living things, but particularly dogs and cats,” Stevenson said. “I have a connection with them since I was a little kid. It’s unexplainable. It’s almost an ethereal connection with animals.”
Stevenson said he and his family knew he was gay his whole life.
“It was always a known thing from the time I was little,” he said. “No one expected me to get married to a woman. It wasn’t a hard process. They were just used to it.”
Stevenson added his grandfather’s sister lived a very open life as a lesbian in the 1970s. He started making trips to Philadelphia as a teenager for gay youth-group activities and moved to the city when he was 19.
Stevenson initially took a job as a bather because he wanted to be around dogs. He worked his way up to a groomer for a chain pet store. Five years ago, he decided he wanted more freedom than the corporate structure allowed. So he enrolled in classes at Community College of Philadelphia to learn how to become a business owner and write a business plan.
His building used to be a pet supply store. It took about a month to remodel it into a safe space to keep dogs for grooming.
He now employs five people and offers a variety of services from nail trimming, washes and haircuts to flea and skin treatments. The stylists can do standard or creative cuts on any breed of dog or cat.
Clients bring their animals into the shop starting at 9 a.m. Stevenson said there’s sometimes a lull in the early afternoon, but otherwise the stream of animals is constant until 8 p.m. Spot’s Spot has a couple-thousand clients, he said.
Grooming takes two to three hours depending on the size of the animal and the services requested. Owners start with a consultation before dropping off their pets.
“First, we ask them information about their dog that would affect the grooming, like age, any kind of health problems, allergies or special behavioral considerations,” Stevenson said while sorting through a shipment of conditioner that had just arrived.
“We collect a lot of information. The next thing is what they had in mind. Then we try to find a happy medium of what is best for the dog and closest to what they would like.”
He said his stylists can do pretty much anything to a young dog, but older dogs sometimes find grooming stressful.
Stevenson added that he likes to schedule cats during slower times so they’re not overwhelmed by a shop full of dogs, like the store has on Saturdays and Sundays. He said grooming cats is very different from grooming dogs.
“It takes great skill and training,” he said. “We try to accommodate the needs of the cats. Some have never been out of their homes.”
Lenar, one of Stevenson’s employees, said it’s important to be careful and gentle with the cats.
When Stevenson isn’t working, he rescues and rehabilitates Chihuahuas. He works with New Life Animal Rescue. A lot of his employees also foster animals on their own time.
“By landing in Northern Liberties and Fishtown, I feel like I hit the lottery,” Stevenson said, noting he’s seen the area develop over the years. “I think higher powers in the universe kind of lead you where they want you to be. I really feel like at this point in my life I’m exactly where I’m supposed to be.”