What business opens in the midst of a pandemic?
That’s the question Bonnie Bitondo has been asking herself for months. It wasn’t her intention to open a third store during a pandemic, but that’s how the cards played out. Now, after a long wait, the Sparta Maxwell & Molly’s Closet Pet Boutique is just about ready to open its doors.
“It’s been quite the adventure,” she said. “If the stars align, we’ll be open within the next few weeks.”
The opening had been planned for July 4, but with the pandemic came difficulties obtaining supplies, construction workers contracting COVID-19 (or deciding to stay home to avert contact with it) and a lack of available inspectors.
‘Too good to pass up’
The journey began last November when Bitondo was approached at her Newton store about filling a space at the new North Village in Sparta (aka the new Shop Rite Plaza).
“The owners described the building and the set up and told me they had hand-picked us because of the success of our other two stores,” she said. “I hadn’t really thought about a third store, but the location right on Route 15 and logistics were just too good to pass up.”
The ball started rolling to augment her Newton and Hamburg stores with a local in Sparta: then the pandemic hit.
“Everything came to a screeching halt,” Bitondo said.
Maxwell & Molly’s Closet is no stranger to adversity, and Bitondo credits this to its ability to “pivot.”
“The whole idea of these stores was born from the limited information available at the time,” she said. “Maxwell and Molly (both Yorkshire Terriers and the stores’ namesakes) were gifted to me as anniversary presents. We created an environment in which we share knowledge, experiences and ideas. Maxwell has crossed over the ‘Rainbow Bridge,’ and Molly is a senior, but as sweet as ever. We also have Milo. I harken back to the opening of the Newton Store as a ‘closet.’ We opened on August 7th of 2007 with a 300-foot store, and a few months later, the economy tanked. Wall Street crashed and the car industry too. Now, it’s the pandemic with this store. It’s sad to say, but two out of the three stores have opened under very, very unusual circumstances.”
The business had remained flexible and gone with the times in which it has been operating.
During the pandemic, the Newton and Hamburg stores have operated with masking and social distancing. Since they were deemed “essential businesses,” they worked with protocols and stayed open. They’ve always offered curbside pickup and turned once-a-week delivery into an everyday service.
“We’ve always been able to generate the business around the store, whether people came to the store or we brought the store to them,” Bitondo said. “Some of the bigger organizations aren’t able to pivot.”
The Newton Maxwell and Molly’s Closet has been in business for 13 years and the Hamburg store for 10.
“Both have increased in size with Newton taking over the entire building increasing to five times the size and Hamburg doubling in size,” Bitondo said.
A lot of the business’ success over the years goes back to its original mission to educate the public about pet nutrition.
“We opened the Newton store with two foods Orijen from Champion Products and Primal Frozen Raw,” Bitondo said. “If you look back in 2007 in this county, grain free was rarely thought about and raw food people had no idea about,” Bitondo said. “They’d ask, ‘do I have to cook this?’ We have worked very hard through the years on educating our customers on increasing the health of their pets. We also promote adding different nutrient products to whatever food you pick. Once a human hand touches the food, it modifies its substance. Through cooking or extruded it no longer contains all of the nutrients that it would initially have had. We recommend people rotate the foods they serve and add fish oils, goats milk etc. Rotating proteins is particularly important.”
Maxwell is honored at the Sparta building with his picture in a purple circle. The building sits in front of the plaza and features 16-foot towers on either end. The space is 1,590 square feet. She refers to her staff as “the Closet Crew.”
“We feel that Maxwell & Molly’s Closet is the ultimate shopping destination and experience for both ‘pet parents’ and their four-legged friends,” Bitondo said. “The Closet Crew’s mission is to bring you the very best through our unmatched customer service, knowledge and passion. We specialize in quality products, with an emphasis on USA made.”
Reflecting on her years in business in the Sussex County community, Bitondo said her greatest joy is hearing the success stories about dogs and cats who are leading healthier and longer lives as a result of conversations she and her staff have had with their human parents and the decisions they’ve made about the food they are feeding their animals and supplements they are providing.
The Newton store is located at 218 Spring Street. The Hamburg store is located at 92 Route 23 South, and the new Sparta location will be opening in North Village, on Route 15, in the Shop Rite Plaza. For further information, visit maxwellandmollys.com or find Maxwell & Molly’s on Facebook.
“We’ve always been able to generate the business around the store, whether people came to the store or we brought the store to them. Some of the bigger organizations aren’t able to pivot.” --Bonnie Bitondo