Lawrence Avenue Going to the Dogs, in a Good Way

By Patty Wetli | Thursday, March 1, 2012

Andrea Giuffre and Lester Palmiano are the partners behind Jack & Ginger's Dog Care. Credit: Patty Wetli

The story behind Jack & Ginger’s Dog Care, currently under construction at 2559 W. Lawrence Ave., reads like the meet-cute in a Sandra Bullock movie.

When her plans to open a doggie daycare in Boston fell through, Andrea Giuffre took a friend up on her offer to spend the summer in Chicago. After trying out various coffee shops in Lakeview, she settled on LooseLeaf Lounge as her morning hangout, attracted to the weird energy created by all of the entrepreneurs who’ve turned the joint into a hub for making business connections.

On a lark, she approached owner Lester Palmiano. As Giuffre recalls, “I just asked Lester one day, ‘How did you open your own business?’” The two started chatting and Giuffre discovered that Palmiano was also kicking around the idea of a daycare for dogs. Out of such serendipity, a partnership was born. “I had done all the work he hadn’t done and vice versa,” she says.

That was in June 2011 and here they are, less than a year later, preparing to open Jack & Ginger’s by the end of this month or early April.

Giuffre, who Palmiano describes as a go-getter and kindhearted, has years of experience as a veterinary technician, including a stint in the ER and ICU of an animal hospital. She’ll handle the pooches while Palmiano, who went straight from high school to the Mercantile Exchange, manages the business end.

“We balance each other out,” Giuffre says. “I’m more free flowing and he’s more, ‘Stop buying stuff.’”

Although their personalities may differ, the two share the same vision for Jack & Ginger’s, which they’re styling as a boutique operation, with a heavy emphasis on community involvement.

The plan is to accept no more than 30 dogs a day to maintain a low pet-to-handler ratio. “Any dog can benefit,” she says. “They thrive in a pack setting. It’s good for their socialization to not be home and bored all day.”

Dogs will be grouped according to size and energy level after undergoing an initial temperament evaluation. “Dogs have different personalities just like people,” Giuffre says. She’ll be looking for signs of toy aggression, food aggression or anxiety around other dogs, turning away those that won’t play well with others.

Jack & Ginger’s will also offer grooming services and dog walking. Customers will find a very limited selection of retail items, as Giuffre and Palmiano would prefer to complement rather than compete with Ruff Haus Pets, just down the block on Rockwell. “I love this street,” says Giuffre. “I think we fit in pretty well.”

“We want to contribute to the whole neighborhood,” adds Palmiano. To ensure that contribution isn’t just an increase in yipping and barking, Jack and Ginger’s will be outfitted with noise-reducing drywall and insulation.

Palmiano, who grew up in Uptown and graduated from Lane Tech, is excited to revitalize this long dormant corner of Lawrence Avenue, which he likens to a diamond in the rough, thanks to some financial assistance from the SBIF program.

“It’s always been kind of an eyesore to me,” he says of the space, which formerly housed the inexplicably-named Star Wars convenience store and, for about five minutes, a Cricket Wireless outpost. “We want to work with GRO [Greater Rockwell Organization], we want to create signage and create awareness. We want to make it look like a little village.”

A volunteer with the Peterson Garden Project, Palmiano is committed to the idea of community service, which he and Giuffre have made an integral component of Jack & Ginger’s. They have plans for a “dollar a dog a day” program in which they’ll set aside a dollar a day for each dog they care for and donate the proceeds to a different featured charity each month. Discounts will be offered to customers who’ve adopted their pet from a shelfter and events will focus on foster home or adoption drives for dogs.

Though Giuffre and Palmiano are only recent acquaintances, Jack & Ginger’s feels more like a family business, which it kind of is; the partners’ relatives have not only contributed funding (“They can wait to be paid back longer than a bank,” Giuffre says) but also marketing support and website design. Not to mention the name, Jack & Ginger.

“Jack was our family dog growing up. We had him for a long time,” says Giuffre of the black Labrador. “Ginger was my dad’s dog. They’re gone but still talked about. My whole family was in tears when I told them the name.”

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  • Claire Sherman

    I live right by this corner and I’m thrilled to see this business open here!  When I used to live in Lincoln Park, I spent many afternoons studying at LooseLeaf, so I’m happy to see Lester start something new where it’s really needed. These two sound like they have the passion and business savvy to make this a positive and successful addition to the neighborhood!

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