NAPLES — Every dog has its day.
Fergie’s came when her owner decided to open a shop in Naples that shares her name.
Alex Gross recently opened Fergie’s Closet Doggie Boutique in the Shoppes at Naples Bay Resort. The store sells unique and custom dog clothing and accessories.
However, the story behind the boutique is just as unique as the products Gross sells. It began with a loved one’s death and an unexpected cross-country trip, and ended with Gross taking a gamble on a new life and new career.
Originally from Colorado, the 24-year-old moved to Cape Coral with her family in September after her father, David, died unexpectedly of illness.
Gross, along with her mother, Jackie, and sister, Katrina, purchased an RV and made a nine-day trip to Cape Coral, where Gross’s aunt lives. Gross’s dogs, Ozzy, Sharon and Fergie, came too.
“We just couldn’t be there,” Gross said of Colorado. “We were looking for ourselves again.”
The dogs were a vital part of the trip. To the Gross girls they are more than just pets, they are their “babies.”
Ozzy, a Chorkie — a Chihuahua and Yorkie hybrid — is the oldest dog. Sharon, a Morkie — a cross between a Maltese and a Yorkie — is Ozzy’s “girlfriend.” Fergie is their child.
“I get the whole dog weirdo thing,” Gross said. “I am one.”
Katrina Gross referred to the trip to Florida as “the Gross girls adventure.”
“Three little women and three little dogs on our way to the unknown,” she said.
After arriving in Cape Coral the family decided to stay with the dogs in an RV camp and play the next couple of months by ear.
Moving from a spacious home to a crowded RV in a strange place posed its challenges. For instance, the girls used unconventional measures to stay warm during the winter.
“I was in a zombie state. I grabbed the hair dryer and blew it under the covers,” Alex Gross said. “We weren’t RV people.”
During the winter Alex and her mother experimented with different crafting ideas. They sold many of Jackie Gross’s custom doggie clothing at a local flee market.
“It was cool that she was making something and people were liking it,” Alex Gross said.
By May, the family was in a new house in Cape Coral and they decided to open the store.
“My first thought was ‘They have lost their minds,’” Katrina Gross said of her daughters.
Alex Gross began looking for a rental space in Fort Myers, but had no luck. Business owners were advising the family that their target audience was not in Fort Myers, but Naples.
Broadening the search to the Naples area brought about a heart-warming coincidence.
When Alex Gross found the virtual listing for Naples Bay Resort the listing address was 1444, a significant number for the Gross girls.
The name of their father’s construction company in Colorado was, 144 Construction Corp. The sisters have the number tattooed in black on their wrists. David Gross had it tattooed on his arm.
“Whenever I see that number I gravitate toward it, obviously,” Alex Gross said.
“It gives us comfort and hopefully luck,” her mother said.
After several offers and counter offers with Naples Bay Resort, Fergie’s Closet opened in suite 108 on June 4. Despite a great location for the store, there are many challenges facing the new business owner.
Alex Gross drives at least an hour to work every day, has no retail or marketing experience and has started a business and a new life in a town where she knows nearly no one.
“We know this is a huge risk,” she said. “This is make it or break it.”
Yet, the hardest part is still waking up each morning without her father, she said.
“We would give it all back. You lose somebody and you lose your whole life,” she said.
“Our whole world was turned upside down,” her mother said.
Despite the challenges and the slow season, the Gross family has high hopes for Fergie’s Closet and their fresh start in Florida.
“I don’t want to be a sales clerk my whole life.” Alex Gross said. “I would like to own multiple stores.”
Bob Jack, owner of Character Eyez, a sunglasses store next door to Fergie’s Closet, shares his business expertise with Alex Gross regularly.
“They have got the heart,” Jack said. “Everything is in the right place.”
Jack, who opened his store in 2008, has been in retail long enough to understand the risk in opening a store under extreme circumstances and wants to help the family bring Fergie’s Closet to its fullest potential.
“I said, ‘God why aren’t you scared’,” he said. “But, seeing their bravery, hearing their story … they will do well.”
Jack said he believes this is the year retail will start to click.
Fergie’s Closet experienced its biggest day of sales at the end of July. The most popular product is Doggles, sunglasses for dogs. Jackie Gross is able to alter items and take custom orders for clothing.
“My store is not perfect, it’s a little rick-a-dink,” Alex Gross said. “My big thing is I want to share with people what I love about dogs.”
Customers can find clothing, treats, strollers, drinking bowls, collars, jewelry, hair accessories and life vests for their furry loved one.
Fergie’s place has a lot of things that regular pet stores don’t have, Jack said. It also has a story.
But, Alex Gross doesn’t want customers because of pity.
“I understand I am not the only person who has lost someone. I want (customers) to want to come,” she said. “It’s not a pity party over here. I am more proud of myself then I have ever been no matter what.”
Fergie’s Closet Doggie Boutique
1500 Fifth Ave. S., Naples
Hours of operation: Wednesday through Sunday 2 p.m. to 9 p.m.