Eulene Robley, pet groomer at Pet Care Warehouse in Hixson, Tenn., gets ready to trim the hair on Pepper the Shih Tzu during a grooming session in this file photo.Photo by Danielle Moore
The town of Hixson flooded into Pet Care Warehouse on Wednesday.
The crowds weren’t there for the 20 percent sale on dog houses, or the 30 percent off select aquariums. They were there to help with a staggering tax bill.
On Tuesday, state officials said they’d shut the place down if Pet Care Warehouse can’t pay $20,000 in overdue taxes by today, said Sharon Moss, who co-founded the local business with her husband. The family sent a desperate Facebook plea to members family’s church, school and neighborhood.
“Some people came in here who didn’t even have animals, but they were determined that they were gonna buy something,” Moss said.
Loyal customer Janice Linville panics a little bit when she thinks about the store shutting down.
She’s been bringing her three dogs — Emma, Pablo and Peppy — every two weeks to get a bath. She buys their chew toys there, as well as her dog food.
“They call you by name. Walmart doesn’t call you by name,” Linville said. “I’m sure lots of people feel the same way.”
The Tennessee tax trouble began when a city road repair project blocked customers from entering Pet Care Warehouse in 2010. Two weeks of being cut off turned into two months, as the total project dragged on for six months.
“Our customers fought to get to us — they would park a block away to get to us,” said Moss’ daughter, Andrea Dobson.
Sales plummeted, and the store fell behind on its taxes.
Since 2010, Dobson has been making small payments to eliminate her debt to the state. But on Tuesday, an official called her and said she had until Thursday to pay up or don’t bother coming in on Friday, Dobson said.
“She said they’d put a padlock on the door,” she added.
In a panic, she typed out a feverish Facebook post to her friends and family.
“It is with a heavy heart that I post this,” it began, as she laid out the situation.
The post received 43 comments and 58 likes, and the store’s page garnered 437 fans by the end of Wednesday.
“We were given less than a week to get it,” Dobson complained. “We have a business plan set in motion to help deal with paying off the rest of the debt, but this was slammed on us.”
Richard Beeland, media relations director for Chattanooga Mayor Ron Littlefield, said blaming the city’s road repair for Pet Warehouse’s tax troubles was “a bit of a stretch. The city went “above and beyond” to protect her business in 2010, he said, even as the project fell months behind schedule.
“We even had a sign made that directed people to an alternate way to get to the Pet Warehouse while the road work was ongoing,” Beeland said. “It did take a little longer than we expected, but road projects do that.”
Most of the time, tax collectors attempt to work with businesses who are behind on their taxes, said Bill Trout, spokesman for the Tennessee Department of Revenue.
It’s rare for the state to shut down a viable business.
“It is true that our tax enforcement officers can sometimes work payment plans out for taxpayers to try to avoid any seizure or lien or levy action, which is pretty much our last resort toward making any sort of collections,” Trout said.
Seizing a property and auctioning it off can cost huge amounts of money, and limits the total amount that the state can collect in the long run, he said.
“It’s not in the state’s interest to do that because it’s very difficult and we’re costing our taxpayers more money, so if we have any way to work it out, we do that,” Trout said.
The best thing to do, however, is not get behind on taxes in the first place. You can’t fight Uncle Sam.
Dobson realizes now that she should have paid the taxman before she paid her other bills, even though those bills were necessary to keep the business open during road construction.
“I should have paid them first,” Dobson said. “That was my fault and it will never happen again.”
As Wednesday drew to a close, things were looking up. The door chime rang as members of the family’s church and school came in to buy something, anything. And the cash kept coming in.
“I can’t say we’ve got every bit of it, but we’re very close,” Moss said at the close of business yesterday. “We’ll be current with the whole $20,000 by 4 p.m. on Thursday.”
Ellis Smith joined the Chattanooga Times Free Press in January 2010 as a business reporter. His beat includes the flooring industry, Chattem, Unum, Krystal, the automobile market, real estate and technology. Ellis is from Marietta, Ga., and has a bachelor’s degree in mass communication at the University of West Georgia. He previously worked at UTV-13 News, Carrollton, Ga., as a producer; at the The West Georgian, Carrollton, Ga., as editor; and at the Times-Georgian, Carrollton, ...