How Petco elevated the pet-human bond in its NYC flagship

The store blends elements of New York City parks, architecture, and pet culture to dazzle shoppers.
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· 4 min read

This is the second installment of our series about the state of store design today. Click here to read more.

In 2023, the Petco in New York’s Union Square relocated to…Union Square. It moved just a block east, from the park’s northwest corner to its northeast corner, but when it comes to design, the store’s in another galaxy.

Visiting the old store, for example, you may not have noticed that it had a pet grooming department, tucked as it was in a corner of the basement. But enter the new store, which occupies the 95-year-old Tammany Hall building, and you can’t miss it: There it is, just to the left, looking like a classic New York barbershop. There’s a barber chair, black-and-white mosaic tile floors, and a gold-leaf sign painted on the window: “Ruff’s Barker Shop.”

A fluffy dog getting a summer cut can be adorable to behold, and that’s not lost on Petco.

The dog grooming area inside Petco’s NYC flagship is called Riuff’s Barker Shop.


“It’s not just dropping your dog off for grooming,” Rick Neira, VP of creative, visual merchandising, store design, and merchandise operations at Petco, told Retail Brew. “Now there’s theater in it.”


The entire store is nothing if not theatrical, as if a set designer took the subway down from Broadway to create the stage for Petco: The Musical.

What the new Petco does that the old one may not have is stop shoppers in their tracks with many posting videos to social media of their dogs (and at least one cat) visiting the store.

Even before the pandemic boosted online shopping, the term “retail apocalypse” became common, with PYMNTS asking in a 2019 headline, “Is This the End Times for Brick-and-Mortar Retail?” But retailers like Petco are betting big on stores, unveiling aesthetic marvels that reflect their communities and their purpose, which for Petco is celebrating our connection with pets.

“The pet-and-human bond is one of the most beautiful things on this planet,” Neira said. “There’s an emotional connection there that I think very few pet stores have ever been able to attain.”


Animal magnetism: Many design elements evoke Union Square Park, which the store borders, including floor-to-ceiling tree sculptures throughout the store. Branches form a cascading canopy over shoppers and the leaves—wait, are the leaves moving?

“All the lights in the building adjust so that the tree canopy looks like it’s in motion,” Neira explained. “There are green and blue lights in the ceiling—along with the way we texturized those leaves—so that the canopy always looks like it’s somewhat in motion.”

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Like the grooming shop, other departments have their own thresholds and tone, including a department with freshly prepared pet food that resembles a classic deli, and a vet clinic that looks more like an upscale doctor’s office.

The shops within the store are an homage, Neira explained, to a bygone era of retail itself, when many department stores had cafes and beauty salons.

“Some of those fancier retailers had their own restaurant…and then they had little boutiques,” Neira said. “That’s kind of the same experience that we’re creating for our guests here.”

New Yorkie, New Yorkie: Befitting retail’s localization trend, where chains eschew standardized inventory and layouts for local products and design elements, the store takes many bites at the Big Apple. It’s located at 17th Street and Park Avenue, for example, and a curated collection of products at the flagship is called 17th & Bark.

The staircase inside Petco’s NYC flagship has hundreds of lights embedded in it.


Cindi Kato, a principal at Arcadis who worked on the project, noted that the staircase, which has hundreds of ping-pong-ball-sized lights in its vertical surfaces, is meant to be “reminiscent of the Soho Grand Hotel,” which has a similar staircase.

Under the staircase is the cat habitat, illuminated cubes stacked diagonally along the line of the stairs where adoptable cats lock eyes with would-be human companions.

A cat looks out from inside the cat habitat inside Petco’s NYC flagship.


Many New York shoppers also live in compact spaces stacked on top of each other.

“It kind of looks like an apartment building but for cats,” Neira said.

Dog rest his soul: Petco declined to provide performance data comparing the old and new locations, but Neira said sales and traffic are “significantly higher.”

The flagship has been a labor of love for Neira, who’s a New York native and started dating the woman he’d eventually marry, Angela Tumolo Neira, who also worked on the redesign as Petco’s senior merchandising design manager, when she lived near Union Square.

One of the couple’s five dogs, a chihuahua named Theo, died as the store was being built, and Neira choked up when he mentioned it.

“Sorry I got a little teary,” said Neira, as condolences were offered. “One of the things I wished was that I could have brought him there, just because I wish he could have experienced it...I do believe that Petco has created something magical in that space.”

Retail news that keeps industry pros in the know

Retail Brew delivers the latest retail industry news and insights surrounding marketing, DTC, and e-commerce to keep leaders and decision-makers up to date.