Small Business Awards 2007: Community Activist Award

Pet Camp

When Mark Klaiman and Virginia Donohue opened Pet Camp, a kennel for cats and dogs, in 1997 in the Bayview, they wanted to do more than just make money housing pets.

"A lot of businesses drive in, do their work, and leave. They don't actually get involved in the community," says Klaiman, who with his wife, Donohue, worked for the Environmental Protection Agency prior to becoming an entrepreneur. "We have taken a fundamentally different approach to doing business in the Bayview."

Wedged between Third Street and the Southeast Pollution Control Plant, in a large warehouse complete with a synthetic-grass outdoor play space and a doggie swimming pool, Pet Camp is a stridently green business. It uses huge low-power fans to circulate air, sends its animal droppings to an East Bay methane plant for electricity production, and gets 75 percent of its electricity from a solar-panel-lined roof.

"You get a great view of the settling ponds from our second floor," Donohue says wryly, adding that housing activists threw around the idea of redeveloping their block for new homes.

But the gaseous and chemical smell from the tanks permeates the air, and the housing advocates quickly realized the block might not make for the best living conditions.

The Pet Camp owners are glad about that. They want to stay in the Bayview and have put in countless hours working with others on community projects.

He's the secretary of the Bayview Merchants Association, which works to ensure that the neighborhood creates and maintains a positive environment for small businesses. During the disruption caused by the construction of the new T-Third line, he helped the group push Muni to develop an ad campaign to let people know that businesses in the neighborhood were still active. They also successfully pressured Muni to speed up the project by making construction crews work weekends and holidays.

"While everyone now thinks the light-rail is going to be great, during the five years it was under construction, it really desecrated Third Street," Klaiman recalls.

The merchant association is also working with the national group Volunteers in Medicine to establish a free health care clinic for Bayview residents.

Pet Camp has a staff of about 20 and offers all employees full benefits and profit sharing. Klaiman says these and other industrial jobs are better than those offered by the tourist and service industries.

For this reason, Klaiman has worked with the Planning Department to retain industrial jobs in the Bayview. Housing activists and other neighborhood merchants have criticized him for that relationship.

According to Al Norman, president of the merchant association, he handles the flack well and takes everything in stride. "He's levelheaded and evenhanded," Norman says.

At the same time, Klaiman is watchful of downtown developers who are working on changing the Bayview. He keeps track of their efforts through the Planning Department and the San Francisco Urban Planning Association, which has a hand in proposed plans for the area.

"They're downtown think tank people," Klaiman says in reference to SPUR. "They're the type of people from north of Market who say they know what is right for the Bayview."

In order to make SPUR sensitive to the needs of Bayview businesses, Pet Camp put together a bus tour for the group to familiarize it with the business community there.

"We should get together as businesses to improve our neighborhood, not just have everything go to downtown," Klaiman proclaims. "And that's something I think we'll actually achieve success in - getting better organized out here." (Chris Albon)


525 Phelps, SF

(415) 282-0700

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