by Susan Taylor Block
During the 1960s, the Pet Shop at North 17 Shopping Center was a destination store for animal purchasers and a sort of neat, clean zoo for browsers. Pearl Hill Boone, Richard Boone, and their daughter, Martha McAllister owned the business, with its “get to the point” name. Pearl was the bookkeeper, Dick, the manager, and Martha was the chief salesman. Their small business had grown from a tiny one the threesome operated earlier in a World War II Quonset hut on South 16th Street.
At the Pet Shop, Wilmington’s only pet store at the time, shoppers had their choice of hamsters, monkeys, tropical fish, piranhas, skunks, cats, dogs, turtles, Siamese fighting fish, goldfish, parrots, parakeets, a variety of snakes, and many other creatures. In addition to the usual products such as dog clothes and flea powder, the store stocked unusual items for the time, such as parakeet diapers, fur dye, poodle mascara, and doggy toothpaste.
Summer was their only meager season. Vacation and beach time left people with less time to care for brand new pets, so the Boones added an unlikely product: Model rockets. Despite the disparity, they sold well in the pet store. Martha set up a little school situation in which she taught public school teachers rocketry, a program underwritten by the National Aeronautics and Space Administration. Martha also boosted sales through publicity. She appeared on various local programs on WWAY -TV, and on “The Jim Burns Show,” a weekday live variety program that aired on WECT-TV for years. She also engendered bonus newspaper space through her creative ideas that involved pets as gifts.
Year-round, a particular monkey named Chipper was the star attraction. He arrived at the store while still a baby and won the heart of Dick Boone. Soon, the feeling was mutual. If Dick was away from the store for more than a couple of days, Chipper would quit eating and drinking until he returned. Chipper hugged his master and kissed his hand when he returned, then resumed eating from his usual personal menu of hamburger, roast beef, fresh produce, peanut butter and crackers, and, on occasion, a piece of chewing gum.
Cute little Chipper outsmarted many customers by picking their pocket while they were busy admiring him. Most shoppers never felt a thing when he slipped his slender fingers inside a pocket to grab a coin, or into a lady’s handbag to snag a handkerchief. Once his thievery was discovered, he used his long tail and feet to swing through the store, delaying capture. Even when caught, Dick Boone had to pry Chipper’s strong fingers open to retrieve a customer’s property.
Near the end of each work day, Chipper would settle into his little cubby and pull his blanket this way and that, until he had it exactly like he liked it. Then, he would sleep amid diverse creatures from many parts of the globe. None, but the boa constrictor could have been fodder for nightmares. Smartly, Skipper was terrified of the boa, but he got along famously with the other animals and visited them at their cages often. When the Boone family sold the Pet Shop, they sold Chipper, too. By 1969, the new owners had taken charge, but Dick Boone visited his beloved friend almost daily.
Sources, in addition to personal knowledge (Pearl Hill Boone and Martha McAllister were Hill cousins) and the Boone’s family papers are: Star News, “Wild Animal Kingdom,” by Ed Newman (August 27, 1967) and The Hanover Sun, “Chipper the Clown,” by Lynne Gause (July 10, 1968).
A Related post: http://susantaylorblock.com/2012/12/08/the-hills-of-queen-street/