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Despite recent move, The Gentle Groomer hopes to keep connection with longtime clients

SALISBURY — There’s a shoe-box sized container full of notecards and scraps of paper that Denise Youker keeps with her.

In the box are the names and numbers of clients she has accumulated over the decade or so that she has been bathing and trimming pets at The Gentle Groomer in Salisbury.

Lately, Youker has found herself digging through the box more than usual. She is in the process of letting her clients know that she is still offering her grooming services, despite abruptly moving in September from her longtime shop on Jake Alexander Boulevard to her new location on East Innes Street.

“I put it on my Facebook page, I texted all 900-something clients to let them know,” Youker said. “We just want people to know it was a business built 11 years ago and that we’re dedicated to our clients.”

A native of upstate New York where she worked as a beautician for 20 years, Youker moved to Salisbury in 2009 and decided to transition from trimming people to preening pets.

“I love animals and so I wanted to do that,” Youker said. “I went to grooming school for three months and then I opened up my business and built it from the ground up. I had just a handful of clients to start.”

Larina Baxley, one of Denise Youker’s groomers, places a bow on a dog she finished bathing and trimming. Ben Stansell/Salisbury Post

Over time, that handful of clients turned into dozens, then hundreds as Youker became one of the go-to pet groomers in Salisbury.

“It was just me for four years,” Youker said. “It just kept growing and I couldn’t accommodate the work, so I had to bring on some groomers. I worked with just another groomer and myself up to 10 years into it.”

Building a customer base was challenging, Youker said, but she believes that her connection to her clients and their pets helped her business grow.

Kim Goodman, who started taking her dog Zekey to The Gentle Groomer seven years ago, said that Youker has become a “second mom” to her dogs. In fact, Youker is the main reason why she has Norman, a 7-year-old Chihuahua.

Youker rescued the stray Chihuahua from a parking lot on a cold day in February several years ago and brought him to her grooming shop. When Goodman came in days later to drop Zekey off, she saw that the Chihuahua and Zekey played well together and decided to take Norman home, where he still lives today.

Goodman isn’t the only client who Youker has re-homed a dog to or for. Youker has found two dogs that needed new homes for another one of her clients, Regina Waller.

“She’s really good about finding homes for animals,” said Waller, who has been using Youker as her groomer for over five years. “She can’t stand the thought of a dog being out there without a home.”

Goodman and Waller are just two of Youker’s clients who have benefited from her rehoming or rescuing dogs. For Youker, it’s great to help owners find new pets, but it’s more important to help an animal find a home.

“The sad thing is, a lot of people for whatever reason turn in dogs and surrender dogs. That’s sad to me,” Youker said. “There’s all kinds. There’s dogs running around in the streets that need homes, but there’s also pets that all of the sudden one day their owner says ‘I can’t keep you.’”

Youker’s passion for being around dogs led to her adding daycare and boarding services to her grooming venture. She said that she invested thousands of dollars to retrofit her former location with a fenced in, outdoor play area and other amenities to accommodate boarding dogs. For the past year, Youker diverted her attention from grooming dogs to taking care of them and playing with them each day.

“It really was surprising. Active dogs who are left home in a kennel all day, owners who come home tired from working don’t want to play,” Youker said. “My clients loved it and the dogs loved coming. It was great.”

Everything was going well until Youker said she received a notice in early August from her landlord that she needed to move out when her lease expired in 30 days. Youker scrambled to find another location, settling on her current spot at 1808 E. Innes St., but soon realized that a move would mean her investment in the daycare service would be wasted.

“I cannot take my daycare and boarding with me because you have to go through the Department of Agriculture. I put like $30,000 in my old building, so that’s lost money,” Youker said. “You have to do the walls, the floors and the molding, which has to be an absorbent material.”

Denise Youker is still getting used to seeing her sign hanging over the door of a new location. Ben Stansell/Salisbury Post

Youker moved into her new location and opened just three days later. She said that a few clients even volunteered to help her move. Now, she has shifted her focus back to grooming and is hoping to take advantage of the additional space provided by her new location. Waller, for one, is glad that Youker is still in business, even if she has to drive to a different spot to drop her dogs off.

“I’ve had lots of dogs and I’ve taken them to lots of groomers, but she is probably one of the best people I’ve taken my animals to,” Waller said.

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