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VOL. 122 | NO. 100 | Thursday, May 31, 2007

Berclair Animal Hospital Continues Renovations to New Downtown Facility

By Eric Smith

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NEW DIGS: Crews are putting the finishing touches on the renovations to Berclair Downtown Animal Hospital this week. -- Photo By Eric Smith

For the past five months, the racket at 668 S. Main St. has been made by construction crews renovating the historic building.

Soon, the whirring of drills will be replaced by the woofing of dogs as the building's new owner, Berclair Animal Hospital, prepares to open the doors to its new veterinary clinic, dubbed Berclair Downtown Animal Hospital

The hospital's partners - Drs. L.M. Snow, Steven Snow and J.D. Williams - are expanding their practice for the first time in its 55-year history - and they're honoring the clinic's roots by keeping the Berclair moniker and simply adding "Downtown."

"The name's been around a long time," L.M. Snow said, "so we decided to stay with it."

Old name, new location

The move Downtown is something they've been eyeing for about five years thanks to the residential base ­- and the buzz - that have been increasing.

"My wife's an attorney, and we have spent a lot of time Downtown, because it's artsy and fast-growing," said Steven Snow, who joined the practice in 1995. "I've just always wanted a clinic Downtown. I like the atmosphere."

Berclair's new location is loaded with atmosphere. The 11,000-square-foot historic building has served many roles over the years, including a bakery and a cotton warehouse.

The vets said their research didn't find a definitive date of origin for the building, but the most credible records show it dating back to at least the 1880s.

Glimpses of its former incarnations are evident, from the flues used in baking to the high ceiling with big windows used for bleaching cotton. Even the four-foot-high ground floor hearkens back to the day when trucks would back in to pick up the bales of cotton.

The building had been empty for nearly two decades, and it wasn't even on the market when the vets' broker, Leah Fyfe of CB Richard Ellis Memphis, homed in on it.

"It took us a year and a half to find it," Steven Snow said. "We just got lucky on this building. A lot of the things down here either had no parking or there is some type of building restriction."

Finishing touches

Room for 25 parking spots was the biggest selling point for the vets, who needed a space that wouldn't force customers to park on the street, standard for much of the South Main area.

"We found a lot of places but nothing that could accommodate the volume of parking that we would need," Williams said.

They purchased the building for $505,000 and have pumped about $700,000 into renovations, which fortunately hasn't strayed too far from the original budget.

"It has not been a bad moving target," Williams said, "but it has moved."

The vets said they've had about 14 change orders to the construction, which began in January, but there hasn't been anything major - no huge-ticket items.

"We haven't had any horror stories like we've heard of with some renovations," L.M. Snow said. "But when you get into a building that age and has been around the block a few times, you can expect to spend a lot of money on it."

This week they expect crews to pour concrete for the parking lot and finish the flooring. That should keep them on schedule for their June 18 targeted opening.

"Once they finish, we can start to put our stuff in," Williams said.

Doctor's work, never done

Berclair Animal Hospital traces its origins to the early 1950s, when it opened at 4670 Summer Ave. Tom Howard started the clinic in 1952, and David Sloas bought it from him in 1960. Then L.M. Snow bought into the clinic in 1964. Snow's son, Steven, joined in 1995, and Williams came on board in 2004.

When the 2,400-square-foot clinic began to burst at the seams, and all the employees started "stepping on each other," they finally decided to expand.

The current facility has 16 employees, with another eight being groomed to open the new one in a few weeks.

"We literally have two staffs right now," L.M. Snow said. "We've been training to get people ready. And we have the same equipment in this building that we have in Berclair. Our lab equipment is the exact same, so that if we need to switch somebody around it's not like they're lost and (don't) know what to do."

The three vets will rotate between the two facilities, with two at the Summer location and one Downtown until traffic dictates that it be the other way around. They said they hope plentiful business dictates a need to add doctors.

"Once it starts getting busier, then we'll add veterinarians," L.M. Snow said. "That's the goal. But we want it manageable."

City mice and country mice

Berclair has taken an active role in getting the word out about its new facility. The practice has joined various Downtown organizations and has begun an advertising campaign.

They'll soon launch a Web site for the first time ever, a monumental move for a clinic that has evolved over the years the old-fashioned way.

"Berclair's kind of grown by word of mouth, so we're going to add a little bit to that," L.M. Snow said.

The new facility will offer the same services as the original - full veterinary medicine, grooming and boarding - albeit in a much larger space.

Also, animal daycare will be available at the Downtown facility, as will a full retail area with pet foods not available anywhere else Downtown, the vets said.

"We hope to make the supply for everybody in the area," Williams said. "Most people drive all the way to PETCO on Poplar to get the major brands of dog food, so now it will be more convenient, and cheaper."

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