Only a few puppies were left at Selmer’s Pet Land on Thursday, a day after the store’s announcement on social media that it will close this month brought a sales boost to the 84-year-old shop.
Shop owner Al Selmer’s phone rang often in his small office in the three-level building in Huntington Station as customers called to express their sympathies about the impending Dec. 18 closing and wax nostalgic about their past purchases of furry, four-legged friends.
The parking lot was nearly full Thursday afternoon at the store, which was having a 30% off sale.
“It’s very pleasant to know that we had such an impact. … It’s just been a joyous experience. And I’m glad that we’ve affected thousands of people,” said Selmer, 82, who smiled when recounting being in California while wearing his red Selmer’s Pet Land shirt and having people excitedly exclaim that they had been in his store before.
WHAT TO KNOW
- Selmer's Pet Land in Huntington Station will close Dec. 18 after 84 years in business.
- Owner Al Selmer is closing the store for several reasons, including a new state law that bans the sale of dogs, cats and rabbits at retail pet shops that goes into effect in 2024.
- Selmer's parents, Bruno and Helen, founded the business in 1939 in the family's home at 125 E. Jericho Turnpike, but the store occupies the whole building now.
Selmer believes his shop, located at 125 E. Jericho Turnpike, is the oldest, family-owned full pet store in the United States.
There are several reasons he decided to close the business his parents founded in 1939, he said.
At the top of the list is a new state law that will ban the sale of dogs, cats and rabbits by retail pet stores, Selmer said. The law, which takes effect Dec. 15, 2024, aims to stop “the puppy mill-to-pet store pipeline and stop abusive breeders,” Gov. Kathy Hochul’s office said in a statement last year.
Hochul’s office declined to comment Friday.
Selmer’s shop sells a variety of animals, including birds, fish, rabbits and reptiles, as well as pet supplies, but puppy sales account for 60% of his business, Selmer said.
“I think the last straw was the government interfering with my business by not allowing me to sell dogs and … making us into bad people. And I’m not comfortable with that,” he said.
He buys his dogs from USDA-qualified breeders, he said.
Seven states and 480 localities prohibit the sale of puppies in pet stores, according to The Humane Society of the United States, a Washington, D.C.-based animal advocacy nonprofit.
Selmer is concerned that New York state's law will cause a significant number of ethically operating pet stores to close.
There were 129 pet and pet supply retailers on Long Island and 629 statewide in the second quarter of 2023, according to the New York State Department of Labor.
The American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals led a coalition of regional, statewide and national animal welfare organizations in supporting the enactment of the Puppy Mill Pipeline Act, said Bill Ketzer, senior director of state legislation for the Eastern Division of the group, a nonprofit headquartered in Manhattan.
There are many large-chain and small, family-owned pet stores that "are successful without relying on the sale of dogs, cats or rabbits," Ketzer said. "Times have changed, and attitudes have changed. Most pet stores, consumer advocates and the public have long been aware that there simply is no humane source for pet stores still selling animals,” he said.
'It's just sad'
Another factor in Selmer’s decision to close his store is the growing competition from online retailers, such as Chewy and Amazon, he said.
“It’s unfortunate that retail is not what retail used to be. … The internet is consuming the retail market,” he said.
So, Selmer, a father of three adult children, will retire and enjoy spending more time with his wife and other family members, he said.
He owns the Selmer's Pet Land building through his company, 125 E. Jericho Tpke. Corp.
He declined to say what will happen to the property, how many employees work at the store or which animals are going where.
“All the animals will be in good homes by the time we close. We’ve done it for 84 years. And we’ll continue to do that — take care of our animals,” he said.
Rather than sell the business, he would rather close it with the Selmer’s Pet Land reputation in tact, he said.
Dix Hills resident Marty Badynda, 61, was in the store Thursday buying Christmas gifts for his family’s pets.
For 40 years, he regularly bought supplies for his own dogs, four Dobermans, at the shop until the last one died in 2022.
The store will be missed in the Huntington community, he said.
“They were always very friendly, very helpful, family-owned. It’s just sad,” he said while looking at puppies for sale in the store.
Deneise Robinson, a puppy manager who has worked at the store 10 years, got choked up while talking about her history with the pet shop.
“It’s heartbreaking. It’s sad. I’ve been [coming] here since I was 5 years old,” she said.
She remembers riding her bike there as a child, said Robinson, 59, a Huntington resident.
“Most of Huntington spent half of their life in this store,” she said.
'A first life experience'
Al Selmer’s parents, Bruno and Helen, started the store in the family’s house in 1939, when Huntington was rural and the business was more of a general store.
“In 1941, Bruno decided to enclose the front porch of their home and handle a small selection of pets and pet supplies. In the yard was a garage which he finished and started breeding dogs and birds,” according to the shop’s website.
Al Selmer took over the business when his father died in 1965, and it became only a pet store, no longer serving as a family home. His mother died in April 1991.
The business has been through many evolutions in its more than eight decades of existence.
In 1988, a fire gutted the building, killing more than 150 animals and causing an estimated $500,000 in damages, Newsday reported at the time.
In the rebuild, Selmer added a sprinkler and alarm system, double insulation between floors and cages that could be lifted and moved.
About 200 animals and most of the building were spared in 2007 from another fire, which an automatic sprinkler system contained to a basement stockroom.
In 1989, when the store was commemorating its 50th anniversary, Selmer said he liked to think that his family was the reason for the business’ success, Newsday reported in July that year.
Selmer's long history was due to the shop focusing on more than just selling animals, he told Newsday 34 years ago.
“A goldfish is not a goldfish. A hamster is not a hamster. It’s a first life experience for children. This business is not so simple as metering out food and selling a bag of fish," he said.