Some downtown Vicksburg businesses have very special employees

Published 3:55 pm Monday, August 17, 2015

For two downtown merchants, the family tends to sleep on the job.

Whether it’s a couple of cats or a big, friendly dog, shoppers and visitors in downtown Vicksburg can get their fix of dog or cat petting while looking for a piece of jewelry or the latest Pulitzer winner.

Laura Weeks, a bookstore owner in downtown, is known for two iconic members of her store, Bette Davis and CoCo.

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Weeks, along with her husband Troy, moved to Vicksburg in 2005 and opened Lorelei Books in 2006. The couple adopted the pair of cats from the Vicksburg Warren Human Society a number of years ago.

“Well, we had Coco, who was about three-months old at the time,” Laura said. “We figured that’d probably be the best time to adopt a friend for her.”

Before Coco and Bette Davis began roaming the two-story downtown building, the Weeks had an 18-year old cat named Pandora, who they brought from Virginia when they moved. After Pandora died, they considered not replacing her with another cat.

Initially, they adopted Coco and were looking for a small dog to keep her company.

However, after a visit with a litter of kittens at the humane society, one friendly, slightly cross-eyed Siamese mix caught Laura’s attention when she looked down and it was sitting on her foot looking up.

“I guess she kind of chose me,” Weeks said.

Laura said the names were chosen spontaneously.

“The process is so fast because you’re at the shelter, and then I found out all you get for adopting one. When you go to the vet, you have this little kitten and they ask what their name is,” she said.

When they were kittens, both could typically be found sleeping together in the front window of the shop or in the couch near the children’s section.

“They used to cuddle up to sleep,” she said. “Now they kind of like their own space.”

Now that both are mature, they’ve developed distinct personalities, something that is evident to visitors and customers who have a few minutes to interact with them.

Troy and Laura emphasized Bette Davis’ rigorous adherence to what has become a sort of morning ritual.

“Every morning, I come down the stairs and Bette Davis sits at the top looking down,” he said. “I’ll call her and she’ll come racing down the stairs and just walk in circles.”

Troy then opens the door slightly and, using both paws, Bette Davis pushes the door open and starts roaming to check on anything that might have changed during the course of the night.

Coco is usually quick to follow, looking for a good spot to sunbathe, Laura said.

“Troy and I joke that we can mark that down on the calendar,” she said.

Though they do not cuddle as much as they did when they were kittens, the two share a sense of camaraderie.

The entrance to Lorelei Books is withdrawn from the sidewalk, with storefront windows on either side, each with shelves. Passersby will often notice Bette Davis sleeping or looking around in one window while Coco does the same in the other.

“If they share space, they’ll keep a certain distance, kind of like a bookend effect,” Laura said.

Though Bette Davis can be more curious and enjoys being petted, she’ll often disappear at the first sign of heavy foot traffic or during story time.

Coco, on the other hand, likes to be in the middle of things, following Laura throughout the store and often perching herself atop the checkout counter.

For both cats, the store with shelves of various heights and other elevated surfaces can be a playland. However, a few minutes watching both is an exhibit in cautiousness as they climb a shelf or perch themselves on the counter.

“They’re very graceful,” Laura said. “They don’t do any damage.”

While they don’t claw couches or furniture, there is one noticeable accommodation Laura makes each day.

“The vacuuming is the price you pay,” she said laughingly.

Most pet owners would worry about having cats in a store with customers frequently coming in and out. With the store sitting in the heart of busy Washington Street, the worry could be real. However, her cats seem to be content with their area, Laura said.

“I think they sense that Washington Street is dangerous for them,” she said. “They’re both so happy in their fantasy world here that I don’t think they’re too interested in getting out.”

There is one issue Laura has to worry about though.

“They do have a weird attraction to plastic and tape, so I have to watch that,” she said as Coco sniffed at some bubble wrap in a box by the register. “They don’t do anything with the books, though.”

Laura said her primary concern is that some customers who are allergic might not be able to handle the dander. However, that number is so small compared to the cats’ popularity that Laura said they can deal with it.

“It’s amazing because I could have a Pulitzer Prize-winning author in here, and I post it on Facebook and get a couple of likes,” she said. “Then I put something up with one of the cats in it and it gets hundreds of likes.”

Weeks said visitors often come from out of town, stop by and “get their petting fix,” after being away from their personal pets so long.

“Animals are supposed to help your stress levels,” she said. “If you’re lucky enough to be able to bring your pet to work, it definitely reduces stress.”

Indeed, it’s not just anecdotal. Nationwide, about 20 percent of companies allow employees to bring pets to work.

A 2012 study at Virginia Commonwealth University showed pet owners who take their companions to work have reduced stress levels and make the job more enjoyable for co-workers and employees.

That is not the only data that affirms having pets at work makes the day more satisfying. A 2010 study by Central Michigan University scientists showed that, when pets were present in a group setting, employees were more likely to collaborate and work more effectively.


Working like a dog

Just south of Lorelei Books, visitors to Art and Soul of the South are greeted with the warmness and perked ears of Gracie, a 4-year old shepherd and greyhound mix.

Gracie is the third dog that has wandered the wooden floors of the popular home decor store.

“They’ve always been rescue dogs,” storeowner Regina Galiani said.

The first dog, Merrit, came with the family when they opened the store after moving to Vicksburg from Michigan.

As Merrit aged, Regina and her husband Joe decided he needed company.

The two had already begun feeding Gypsy, a street dog that had grown fond of the animal lovers and their Washington Street store.

“Each dog has overlapped,” she said.

A few years ago, the Galianis adopted Gracie, who visitors often find displaying her greyhound genes by bouncing through the store to greet customers. After Gypsy died in 2011, Gracie started to rule the roost.

While the Galianis are attached to Gracie, the energetic dog is equally attached to her owners.

After greeting customers, Gracie quickly returns to the side of her owner, following closely wherever Regina goes in the store. When Regina walks outside, Gracie can be found in the window waiting for her owner to return.

“She gets anxious when she’s away from us,” she said.

Longtime customers know to expect a warm greeting from Gracie, while those who have been away from Vicksburg for several years are often confused when they see the big beige dog greet them instead of the smaller, dark Gypsy.

“Folks will come and look at Gracie and ask, ‘wasn’t she smaller?’” Regina said. “I have to tell them that’s a different dog.”

For Regina, any worries about customers who are afraid of dogs are waylaid by the enjoyment most customers get from seeing her.

“A lady just this morning came by and saw her and talked about how much she missed her dog,” she said. “I think it’s very good for both of them.”

“That doesn’t mean we just leave her out. If someone is nervous about her for whatever reason, we’ll put her up,” Regina added.

Each morning, Regina heads to the car, lets Gracie in and goes to work. As soon as they arrive, it’s time for Gracie to check out the store and make sure nothing is amiss, Galiani said.

“She knows her routine every morning,” Regina said. “She’s so excited to come to work.”

Nicole Woodrick is an artist who often helps Regina around the store.

“I prefer for her to be here,” she said. “She approaches customers and she’s real sweet, but she’s establishing her territory.”

Woodrick said when she’s there alone, Gracie often sits up at the edge of the store’s wooden floor that turns to carpet as customers head to the back.

The calm, relaxed dog is a far cry from the energetic rescue dog that bounded back and forth in the store in 2009.

“She was a very high strung puppy,” Regina said.

Though Gracie has calmed down, Regina said she provides a refreshing burst of energy on slow days, such as when rain or cold weather grind foot traffic to a halt in Vicksburg’s historic district.

“It’s just great having her around when it’s slow. and we can roll around and play for a little bit,” Galiani said. “It puts me in a good mood, so if it’s really slow, it’s time for a puppy break.

“There’s nothing like it,” Regina said petting her loyal companion.