Kole Leftwich Pet Safari

Kole Leftwich, 21, is on his way to opening a small pet store in Chatham on Center Street. 

A Danville man who has chosen to open his first business at 21 years old is gearing towards opening 'Pet Safari' on Center Street in the fall or winter this year. 

Kole Leftwich, who has returned to his native town of Danville, decided he was tired working a job for someone else and said to himself, "It's now or never."

"Working for somebody else and getting paid little chump change, I hate it," Leftwich said. "Since I've always wanted to run a pet store, I did some research and was like, I'm gonna go for it. I'm tired of working for everybody else, I want to work for myself."

Leftwich said his goal of opening a pet store has always been in his mind, and goes back to his passion for keeping small pets growing up.

"I've always had a passion for animals," Leftwich said. "When I was living in South Carolina, I would go to local pet stores there, help feed the fish and help clean the cages out. Then I would go home and have an at home pet store. I would have tanks lining my room, fish and turtles and stuff."

Leftwich said he chose his shop's name to portray the variety of animals he will be selling. His plan includes selling birds, small mammals such as hamsters, fish and reptiles.

His store will also carry a stock of pet supplies for new or existing pet owners.

After months of research and talking to locals, Leftwich says he believes the demand for a place to get pets and pet supplies in the county has made itself apparent.

According to Leftwich, people he's spoken with are frustrated about having to drive upwards of 20 minutes to get to the nearest dedicated pet store.

"I got to thinking, since I've always wanted to open a pet store, Chatham would be a great location," Leftwich said. "It wouldn't just gear to the Chatham residents, it would also gear towards the Gretna residents and the Altavista residents."

He's also noticed that Chatham in particular is a very pet-loving community, and that the people here would like to support a local store over a chain such as Pet Smart.

"This ain't Pet Smart, this is a small local pet store," Leftwich said. "I was talking to several residents, they're like, we would like to support somebody young and that has a mindset of starting his own business."

Leftwich also spoke about a plan he has made in partnership with the Pittsylvania Pet Center to have parking lot adoption events twice a week once he's opened up.

He says this will involve the pet center bringing dogs and cats and placing them in crates outside for adoption, and his store can sell them the supplies they need to get started.

"There are so many pets in shelters that need loving homes," Leftwich said. "The shelters are steadily getting full by the day."

Since creating his business plan and securing his location on Center Street, Leftwich says there have been "bumps in the road."

Significant renovations still have to be done to the building that used to be a laundromat, Leftwich says, including the installation of a new HVAC system, which can take several weeks.

Additionaly, a water pipe unexpectedly burst in his location's parking lot, leaving it in need of being repaved.

Despite things not going completely to plan, however, Leftwich is optimistic and encourages other young people in his place to keep at their dream of opening their own business.

"I'm going to start off small, and maybe...if business takes off I might in a couple years potentially open another location somewhere," Leftwich said. "Follow [your] dreams, make it happen, don't wait."

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