SEMINOLE, FL — At a time when businesses are struggling through the continuing coronavirus pandemic, a small business catering to pets is not only thriving, it’s garnering a national reputation.

Bark Life, a specialty pet retailer in Seminole that features boarding, daycare and grooming services, has been named “America’s Coolest Pet Store” after taking first place in a nationwide contest put on by pet industry publication Pets+ magazine.

The store was chosen first among dozens of finalists who were judged by a panel of editorial staff and retail experts on the basis of their history, business practices, interior and exterior design, customer experience, marketing, community involvement and online presence.

The judges liked Bark Life’s “resort-style vibe” and the simple, clean layout, which they said, “…appears to thrive on meeting customers’ needs with ease.” They also liked the waterproof, vinyl-plank floors and noise-reducing walls in the 68-room boarding facility as well as the roomy, cage-free grooming suites, visible to waiting pet parents through a picture window.

The large indoor and outdoor play areas received a special nod from the judges, as well as the separate HVAC systems for each department designed to keep pets and people healthy by
preventing cross contamination.

The win comes just one year after owners Tammy and Mike Vasquez moved Bark Life to their
new 14,000-square-foot facility in Seminole.

“We are humbled and excited to be recognized for what we’ve built,” Tammy said. “But we couldn’t have done it without the support of our customers, family and friends who also shared our dream. They told us what they wanted. They kept us motivated. They made us cool. It’s been a wild ride these last few months, but we couldn’t have done it without the love and support our customers have shown us over the last eight years.”

The judges also gave a thumbs up to the inspirational quotes on the walls, the creative displays and the murals that add personality to the small business.

“It’s easy to become impersonal,” Mike said. “We have purposely worked for that not to happen, and the inspiration wall was the base of it.”

“They worked hard to create a cheerful environment and an impressive number of services,” said judge Melissa Kauffman.

Kauffman said she especially loved Bark Life’s mascot, a toucan named Buffet who monitors all activities at Bark Life from the concierge desk and emphasizes the business’ tropical theme.

“Of course I love the toucan, but that’s just me,” said Kauffman. “I’m a huge bird fan.”

The Vasquezes grew up Pinellas County where they’re raising their son, Mike Jr., and two four-legged sons.

“As very big animal lovers, we felt that no one place offered pet parents a safe place to purchase healthy food and treats for large dogs as well as small dogs and cats without fear of recalls while receiving one-on-one attention from educated staff,” Tammy. said. “We also felt the need for a safe, cage-free grooming experience second to none.”

After working in the pet industry for 30 years, the couple founded Bark Life Market in 2011, encompassing all these goals. They offer healthy pet foods and treats with a one-on-one shopping experience with friendly, well-educated staff, cage-free grooming services and a day care experience that gives pets a chance to play and make friends in a safe environment while giving pet parents peace of mind.

The Vasquezes also work with local to host adoption events and find homes for homeless pets.

Bark Life is located at 10720 Park Blvd, Seminole, and has a second location at 6647 Central Ave., St. Petersburg.

This article originally appeared on the Pinellas Beaches Patch

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