Photo by Hannele Lahti

One of the perks of having a small business is being able to make your own rules. That can mean having a cat, dog or even a bird nearby to help pass the time and greet customers. At some local stores, the pets have become so iconic that people come by just to see them—and, perhaps, do some shopping along the way.

An email alert goes out to customers at Woodcraft of Rockville when Charlie the pug is expected to be hanging out. Sushi, the cat at Remix Recycling Co. in Bethesda, practically has his own fan club. And the bird at Ecker’s Clock and Watch Shop, also in Bethesda, likes kids so much that he gets upset when a stroller goes by and doesn’t stop. “He doesn’t understand why he can’t go coo at the children. You can see his disappointment,” owner Edward Compton says of his parrot, Dr Pepper.

Here’s a glimpse at some store pets in Montgomery County that give shops a quirky, homey and inviting vibe.

Musu, the cat who hops around a brewery

Name: Musu
Business: Waredaca Brewing Co.
Location: Laytonsville

The cat at Waredaca Brewing Co. has his own Instagram account with more than 450 followers and a bio that reads: “Musu the brewery cat. Taker of naps. Defender of grain.” Some people come to the brewery because they’ve seen him on social media, says Zach Lloyd, a brewer who works at Waredaca and cares for Musu. In October 2020, Musu just showed up at the Laytonsville farm where the brewing company is located, says Lloyd, and he has been there ever since. “He kind of chose us. Maybe that’s the best way to get a cat,” he says of Musu, who’s known for hanging out in the indoor and outdoor brewery space. “He’s the head greeter. He sleeps all day until it’s time for people to show up, and he lets everybody pet him. He loves attention.”

Photo by Hannele Lahti

Benny, the barber’s assistant

Name: Benny
Business: Ann’s Barber and Hair Stylist
Location: Gaithersburg

As Chris Grothe gets his hair cut at Ann’s Barber and Hair Stylist in Gaithersburg, he enjoys seeing Benny, the shop’s 7-year-old beagle mix, milling about. “Who doesn’t like dogs?” says Grothe of Germantown. “He’s obviously a staple here and part of the business. It’s wonderful.” Benny often is sprawled out on a cushioned bench chewing one of the many toys that customers have brought him—sometimes whimpering at regular passersby until they come in to say hello. Owner Ann Pham says Benny is good with kids, and they often give him hugs. “He’s a very kissy dog,” says Pham, who lives in Boyds. “Everybody who comes in gets a kiss.”

Photo by Hannele Lahti

A dash of Pepper

Name: Dr Pepper
Business: Ecker’s Clock and Watch Shop
Location: Bethesda

At first, Lucas Ference doesn’t notice Dr Pepper, the green parrot, sitting on the counter at Ecker’s Clock and Watch Shop as he picks up his repaired watch. “That’s awesome,” says Ference of Rockville, mimicking the 24-year-old parrot’s “mah” sound as he pays at the register. “Like this place doesn’t have enough character.” Edward Compton has operated the shop for 45 years on Norfolk Avenue and takes Dr Pepper most everywhere, perched on his shoulder, including on drives to and from his home in Clarksburg.

Photo by Hannele Lahti

Charlie, unofficial hardware store honcho

Name: Charlie
Business: Woodcraft
Location: Rockville

On the days that Amy Bender brings Charlie with her to Woodcraft of Rockville, she tapes a sign on the front glass door that reads: “Charlie the Pug is in the house! Try not to laugh at his ‘bark.’ He does not bite. Woof!” Stout and gray with a high-pitched bark that sounds more like a frog than a dog, he spends much of his time in the retail area of the woodworking supply store on Parklawn Drive, waiting to socialize with customers. “When somebody comes in, he’ll get up and sniff their ankles,” says Bender, who lives in Silver Spring and is one of the owners of the business. “He’ll let them pet him, and then he goes back to sitting and watching who comes in the door.”

Photo by Hannele Lahti

Greeting customers? Sushi rolls with it.

Name: Sushi
Business: Remix Recycled Co.
Location: Bethesda

Sushi is often in the window of Remix in downtown Bethesda, where she catches the attention of people walking by on Wisconsin Avenue, owner Derek Kennedy says. “She’s quite a celebrity around the area,” he says of the cat, who lives at the secondhand clothing store and takes occasional trips to Kennedy’s home in Bethesda. Kennedy likes Sushi’s companionship and gets a kick out of watching her interact with customers. “I think she thinks she’s a teenage girl. She really seems to dig it when teenage girls come in,” he says. “They’ll sit on the floor, cross-legged in a circle, and she’ll get in their laps. She loves it.”

Photo by Hannele Lahti

Wabi and Sabi, cat burglars on the prowl

Name: Wabi
Business: Pure Virtue Glass
Location: Rockville

It might sound risky to give cats free rein in a glass pipe store, but Matt Virtue says he’s had “zero breakage” with Wabi and Sabi, the 3-year-old Bengal cats at his business, Pure Virtue Glass. “They come out and want to be petted by the register,” says Virtue, who lives in Rockville and whose shop is also located there on Nebel Street. “They always want to be at the highest point in the store on top of all the cases, but they’ve never broken anything.” The cats have learned how to get into display cabinets at the adjacent Accents on Beads store, which is connected to Pure Virtue Glass, but haven’t caused any real damage. “Sometimes there are piles of pearls on the floor,” says Madison Trevino, an associate at Pure Virtue Glass who lives in Gaithersburg. “They are true cat thieves.”

Caralee Adams is a freelance writer in Bethesda who covers health, education and other topics for Bethesda Magazine.

This story appears in the July/August 2022 issue of Bethesda Magazine.