While much of 2020 has been a year of hardship and strife for many people and businesses, Columbia Pike has remained a place of hope. Since March, nearly a dozen new businesses have opened, or will open soon, along the corridor as residents continue to follow their dreams.

One such dreamer is Carel Castillo, the owner of Urban Pets Paws. Castillo has lived in Arlington for nearly 20 years, and on Columbia Pike for the past 3 years. For nearly a decade she has worked as an independent dog walker and boarder, eventually adding dog grooming to her repertoire. When a commercial space became available earlier this year at the corner of S. Walter Reed Dr. and Columbia Pike, she knew it was time to open her first brick-and-mortar establishment.

“I had been saving for some time,” said Castillo. “While I knew that opening a business right now would be tough, I couldn’t help but think if I didn’t do it now, I never would.”

And Urban Pets Paws was born. The business opened in May and offers grooming services, as well as both day care and boarding. Though opening the business went pretty smoothly, Castillo says it has faced – and continues to face – certain challenges.

“The community was very supportive and working with the landlord and County was surprisingly easy, but business has been slow and I did not qualify for any of the new assistance programs.”

While the Payroll Protection Program (PPP) and other emergency small business grants and loans have been lifesavers for many, new businesses often do not qualify. For the PPP, businesses have to submit past payroll figures, which Urban Pets Paws obviously does not have, and with so much competition for other assistance programs, more established businesses with years of proven success often take priority.

Additionally, with more people working from home or finding themselves newly unemployed, the need for walking or grooming services has declined across the entire country, not just here on the Pike.

“Dog grooming and walking are not essential expenses the way groceries and rent are, so it’s understandable that people have cut back, but I have also seen a lot of positive benefits when our pets get out of the house and socialize. It’s just as important for them as it is for us.”

That is why Castillo was so thrilled to find a space large enough to host daycare services and is glad things are starting to pick up.

“People are gradually starting to go back to work or go on vacations again, so I am optimistic that both the daycare and boarding services will attract new clients. There are a lot of pet-friendly apartments along Columbia Pike and plenty of pet owners, so I feel lucky I was able to find a space right on the Pike and also be the only groomer and boarder here.”

Castillo feels that the personal care and attention she can provide to each pet as a small operation is what makes Urban Pets Paws unique, and gives her an edge over some of the larger corporate operations in the area.

Right now, Castillo runs the business by herself, though her daughter – a fourth grader – does enjoy helping out in between her virtual classes. She is hopeful that she will be able to hire additional staff when business picks up. And while steady business is challenging right now, Castillo says she can’t imagine doing anything else.

“I never imagined being a professional dog groomer and boarder, but what started out as lending a helping hand to friends quickly became my dream. I found working with dogs to be a sort of therapy for me. I’m very happy that I’ve made this my business and I plan to keep doing it for as long as I can.”

Urban Pets Paws is accepting new clients by appointment only. You can find them online at http://urbanpetspaws.com/ or call 703-606-9710.