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Dog store's name gets yipes, growls

THE NATION

Some Seattleites say the word for female pooch doesn't belong.

February 25, 2007|Lynn Marshall | Times Staff Writer

SEATTLE — Lori Pacchiano needed a catchy brand name for her high-end pet-products business. "High Maintenance Dog" didn't have the right ring to it, and "High Maintenance Mutt" might offend pure-bred owners.

When her brother and business partner Ryan Pacchiano suggested "High Maintenance Bitch," she knew they had a winner.

Since the two founded the company in 2002, its products have been purchased by such celebrities as Oprah Winfrey, Debra Messing and John Travolta. The products -- feather boa collars, dog makeup, custom-made $2,500 sofas and $45,000 diamond dog earrings -- are available on a website and in the company's Seattle store. There is also a dog-care book and a calendar, all under the brand name High Maintenance Bitch.

She has heard a few complaints about the name before, but Lori Pacchiano, 36, was surprised by the reaction when they opened a store in the Seattle community of Wallingford and put up a sign.

About 3 feet square; the sign's top two-thirds depict a woman and dog on a pink background, with "High Maintenance" arched over the drawing in white. "Bitch," in black letters on a white background, takes up the bottom third of the sign.

"It's a big sign," said Janet Stillman, executive director of the Wallingford Neighborhood Office, a community association. "And that word takes up most of the sign." Stillman says that in the month the store has been open, her office has fielded more than a dozen complaints from residents.

Store clerk Kara Turner has heard some complaints as well. "But for every person who complains, there are three who love the name," she said.

"It's never been such a huge deal till now," Pacchiano said. "It's just a word -- it's what veterinarians call female dogs, it's how the American Kennel Club refers to girl dogs."

Wallingford, north of downtown Seattle near the University of Washington, has about 16,000 residents. The store sits in a bustling area with restaurants, small shops and a grocery store.

"It is a community with a lot of young families with children, and we are a walking community," said Stephen Beckett, co-president of the local Chamber of Commerce.

Pacchiano said she hoped to reclaim words used to disparage women. "Our products are directed at women," she said. "And by using the word 'bitch' this way, we can help empower women to redefine the word."

The company's spunkiness, however, extends beyond its name. It offers a paw cleanser called Street Walker and studded collars labeled Ruff, Tuff, Biker Buff.

Stillman says she hasn't had any complaints about the store itself or its product line. "It's a cute store, the people who are running it are very nice, and it's a clever play on words," she said. "It's just the sign."

She is worried that the name will be an ongoing irritant to the community. "When we have the kiddie parade next summer, people will take pictures of their kids dressed up for the parade, and that word will be in the background. It's not going to make many parents happy," she said.

Alice Hitchens, 37, who lives a few blocks from the store, says the sign doesn't bother her. "It's kind of in your face," she said, "But it's a pet store; it shouldn't be that big a deal."

Beth Arnold, 33, a Wallingford resident who has a 3-year-old, sees it a little differently. "I'm not thrilled," she said. "It's not really a word I want my son learning."

Pacchiano said she had a positive meeting with the Chamber of Commerce last week. Beckett, the co-president, agreed. The chamber hasn't taken a position on the issue.

Beckett says that although he isn't surprised about the community complaints, he has been surprised by the attention from local media. The store isn't the first, or even the most, controversial business in the area, he said.

"There's an erotic bakery about six blocks down from it," Beckett said. "People complained about that when it first opened 20 years ago, but it's part of the neighborhood now. They are pretty discreet with their sign though, and they keep the windows covered up."

Pacchiano is hopeful that in time her store will be accepted. "If the concern is about kids, we're talking about kids who are old enough to read. And if they can read, they're old enough for their parents to talk to them about what the word means," she said. "I think it's good to start that kind of dialogue."

lynn.marshall@latimes.com

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