Shortly after Victoria Bellah opened her Longmont boutique for pets and people – Madhouse 4 Paws – last year, she ran into unforeseen obstacles from a global pandemic to road construction limiting accessibility to her storefront. Bellah found a way to keep the Madhouse name and spirit alive with a new venture: a pet-friendly coworking and event space.
The Madhouse Station officially opened October 1 in the same location that once held the specialty pet boutique at 333 1st Ave. Retail displays of pet supplies are now replaced with desks and chairs in the open layout collaborative space. The backroom is a conference area. Easy-to-move furniture decorates the Madhouse Station to transform the building into a “micro-venue” for small parties, weddings and other events.
Bellah welcomes the new business model, but it was one of many necessary maneuvers to keep the business alive.
Madhouse 4 Paws, which operates under Asgard Doghouse, Bellah’s independent French bulldog breeding service, was created in November 2019 as a specialty pet store with goods for both animals and animal-lovers. Before the boutique Bellah trained and showed dogs. Her daughter-in-law was already building her brand of custom dog clothes, leashes and collars Paw Lu Dog Swag.
A shop with specialty pet items seemed like a perfect career transition. Madhouse 4 Paws held its store grand opening in February 2020. The Longmont business offered various pet supplies, the Paw Lu products, “people swag,” and pet photography.
The Madhouse name is inspired by Bellah’s sometimes chaotic home living with five French bulldogs and one labrador. Her French bulldog rescue Louie GrumpyPants can be anxious and needs to be with Bellah more often than her other dogs. She said that she understands that it can be limiting for pet owners who want to go to indoor public spaces with their furry friend. At Madhouse 4 Paws, dogs and cats were welcomed. There was furniture, a coffee and tea station and a dog relief area so visitors could shop or relax with their pets.
“It was just supposed to be a place that you could come and enjoy time with your dog without having to be stressed and be outside,” Bellah said. “We did have people that used to come by and just really not purchase anything, just hang out and talk and visit and that was great. You know that's what we wanted it to be. It's more like a community event where you can come and just meet people that have the same interest as you.”
But after a month into business, the pandemic temporarily shut down Madhouse 4 Paws. When Bellah reopened, foot traffic slowed. To help keep the pet boutique afloat, she started offering dog daycare in the store. With limited space in the store, she could usually manage four or five dogs at a time.
Pulling on Bellah’s background, she started dog training services at Madhouse 4 Paws. Bellah also started dog boarding offsite.
“Our first month of sales was excellent, and then after that there was nobody,” Bellah said. “Since then, we really haven't had that spurt come back open.”
Madhouse 4 Paws was hit again by road closures and construction from the The 1st Avenue and Emery Street Intersection Improvements project that started up in May 2021. The project’s roadway improvement is being done by the city, with the BNSF Railway responsible for completing railroad improvements. Though construction was estimated to complete by the end of this last summer, according to the City of Longmont’s web page for the project, construction is still underway.
Project Manager Micah Zogorski said that the city is wrapping up a traffic signal installation and coordinating with BNSF for some of their equipment installation. Zogorski added that testing on equipment is scheduled for next week. If tests are successful, then the intersection should open up to the public by the middle of October.
Though traffic changes occurred as recently as last Thursday with a lane shift, Zogorski said that First Avenue is back to its normal two-way traffic both east and westbound.
“We're kind of back to our normal configuration on First Avenue without any kind of lane shifts, so hopefully there won't be too much more more impacts associated with this project,” Zogorski said. “We're scheduled to have the testing done next week. And if everything checks out on that, we're looking to open that crossing backup.”
The Brewhouse Trolley used to come by before COVID and the roadway improvements, stopping at 300 Suns Brewing, which helped foot traffic Bellah said. At one point in late June, First Avenue was temporarily reduced to one lane for eastbound traffic, making it inconvenient for customers to access Madhouse 4 Paws.
The culmination of hurdles made the Madhouse 4 Paws store unsustainable. On August 31 in a Facebook post, the company announced that the boutique was closing and daycare was suspended. Bellah is working on moving inventory to an online shop, while still accepting call-in orders. She plans on the online shop to be completed by mid-October.
“I think it was like all of that, that hindered it, that it just didn't take off. So we knew we needed to make another shift” Bellah said. “We have a lease here until May of 2022. We brainstormed, right. We're like okay, how are we going to pivot? What are we going to do?”
Bellah’s husband suggested a coworking space and her daughter-in-law came up with renting the space for events. She combined the two ideas to make Madhouse Station.
Bellah plans on growing the Madhouse brand online and at the coworking-venue space. Along with it, she’s pursuing other pet-related ventures by writing a children’s book featuring Louie GrumpyPants that is scheduled to be published in February or March. The french bulldog also has his own line of dog and people clothes and accessories.
Not wanting to lose her mission for the original Madhouse, the coworking-event space is still pet-forward. After members enter the office space through a glass door with a “Pet Friendly,” decal, there’s a table to the left with dog treats. Next to it on the floor a basket is filled with rolled up pet bed mats so members can give their dogs a place to rest.
Bellah said dogs — and even harness trained cats — are welcome as long as they are under control and able to lay on the floor or in their owner’s lap. It’s all about acceptance, Bellah said.
“I just think it's important that if you have an animal that you normally take everywhere with you… they have to be accepted,” Bellah said. “I want it to be a place that if your dog is under control, it's gonna lay down next to you or in your lap, then this is a spot that you can come and work during the day — and go next door and grab lunch[300 Suns Brewing] because they allow dogs as well — and then feel that you're accepted.”