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Local business owner talks shop with Washington

By Christine Simmonds | Jun 25, 2020
Photo by: Christine Simmonds Maine Senator Susan Collins (left) shows off her dog Pepper while talking with Heidi Vanorse Neal about her Loyal Biscuit pet stores.

Rockland — Local business owner Heidi Vanorse Neal and U.S. Sen. Susan Collins met through Zoom to discuss retail business during COVID-19.

The June 24 meeting and virtual tour was organized by the National Retail Federation and the Retail Association of Maine.

Neal owns and operates seven Loyal Biscuit pet stores in Maine. The most recent store in Bath opened in the middle of April after the company purchased the Wags and Whiskers pet store.

Collins said she is familiar with Loyal Biscuit, and frequents the Brewer location with her black lab, Pepper. “Whenever we go there her tail starts wagging,” Collins shared, and praised Neal’s “great staff” at the store.

Neal’s stores require customers to wear a mask, and she told Collins it posed a challenge to her staff. She said her employees have “taken abuse” over the matter, and she wished Maine’s mask policy for businesses was more clear.

Collins said the mask policies for each state were up to the governor.

Loyal Biscuit closed for in-store shopping in the middle of March, and reduced their hours of operation. The business and employees were able to quickly adjust to accommodate online shopping and ordering by phone for curbside pick-up.

Not shopping in-store has changed what customers purchase, however. Neal said customers are still buying pet food, but not dog toys and treats, which she described as “the highly profitable items.”

Collins said those items are usually an impulse buy, and that she was guilty of buying more than she meant to at Neal’s stores as well. “I go into the store meaning to buy one thing and end up buying extra products... due to your clever marketing,” she said.

Neal expressed concerned about what business will be like in the winter without the summer tourists to boost their profits. “We rely so heavily on that foot traffic… and those tourists,” she said. While the pandemic might be over in a few months, Neal said the winter will still be very challenging for her stores.

Collins said that was helpful to know as the Senate continued to debate moving forward with another package to help businesses. She said the cost is the main dispute, but she continued to work with a bipartisan group to pass the measures.

Neal then took Collins on a virtual tour of the Rockland store. She discussed the safety measures that have been put in place. These included plexiglass shields at the registers and the closure of the self-service dog wash stations.

Neal said the stores were still trying to determine how to safely open the dog washing stations and comply with the safety measures.

The National Retail Federation’s store tour program is to connect members of Congress with retailers “to learn how retail powers the economy and creates jobs in the states and districts they represent.” The program also allows business owners to “build relationships with the lawmakers who make decisions that directly impact the retail industry.”

The tours are usually held in-person, but have moved to an online format since the pandemic.

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Comments (9)
Posted by: Jack Lane | Jun 28, 2020 06:55

Way to go, Bill  !!


Posted by: Bill Packard | Jun 27, 2020 19:24

Good advice Dan, but sadly the commenters won't listen.  The article clearly highlights a nice local business that has done well, but the commenters only think about themselves. They could care less about Heidi and her business, it's all about them and their political agendas.  Hate her all you want, but she's our Senator and the exposure for Heidi's business is well deserved.  Bringing the President into it is beyond bizarre.


Posted by: Michael S. Weatherwax | Jun 27, 2020 18:47

HI Bob - great commentary - you are right on!!

By Mike Weatherwax

Posted by: Francis Mazzeo, Jr. | Jun 27, 2020 17:22

I think Robert Williams hit the nail on the head . We have a supposedly businessman, albeit a bankrupt one, running our country into the ground and a Senator sitting on the fence. Neither one of them would be my choice for an interview.

Posted by: Dan Dunkle | Jun 27, 2020 09:35

Let's all remember Heidi Vanorse Neal is a part of our community and she and her business have done a lot for the area. I know I have personally seen her donate a lot to area pet shelters. And what I've seen goes beyond PR. It's an election year and we're all feeling intense about politics, but it's also a long time till November, so we can pace ourselves.

Posted by: Stephen K Carroll | Jun 27, 2020 09:21

Heidi Thank you for your perspective on my comments.  I am concerned to think that a lady of your business experience feels that you were "honored" by your selection.  Unless you still believe in the tooth fairy, your selection to chat with Susan Collins was in no way a random act.  You were chosen by the Collins camp because you have a successful "Maine" pet store.  Susan knows everyone loves their pets and she wants to be "seen" as a pet lover.  This was a well calculated move by the Senator to gain favor leading up to the election.  Susan Collins (in my opinion) cares nothing about your business (as shown by her lack of action for small business).  Politicians, including Mss. Collins have a lower approval rating than a used car salesman.  I hope this year others will wake up to the understanding that career politicials like Susan Collins are not Honorable. It is well documented that most including Susan act in favor of their large donors and NOT those they are elected to represent.  I do wish her a nice retirement in Northern Maine with her dog Pepper.

Posted by: SUZANNE WILLIAMS | Jun 26, 2020 10:11

Written by Robert Williams

I have no idea of the intent of this article where Sen. Collins and Heidi Vanorse "talk shop". I learned that the Senate is  considering another round to help business and face mask policy is up to state governors. Wow!Let's all take a tour.

Is this what we have come to? The wheels are coming off the country, Trump ignores the virus more concerned with sacking critics, getting Flynn off, cutting virus testing, trying to eliminate health care for 20 million people, meeting the Polish president where are troops in Germany may be headed, firing the US AG for southern NY, refusing to wear a mask because tough guys don't eat quiche, has his acolytes attend rallies where the virus can spread, blame it all on Obama, sue Bolton and his  aunt to stop publication, get in a few rounds of golf, refuse to consider police reforms, approves the neck hold some police use, protect the Confederacy, appoint judges with 18th century views of civil rights, get Roger Stone a reduced sentence,politicize the Justice Department,and that is just this week. One would never know 35,000 Americans a day are infected with the virus.We made America Great Again. We lead in covid infections and deaths.

It is the leadership, or lack thereof,  that is responsible for what is happening. What leadership? Where is the plan for attacking covid? Everyone but Trump is at fault because Trump accepts no responsibility. We have no national plan so Trump is able to blame individual governors and if a governor needs help he had better not get Trump mad.

It is people like Susan Collins who permit these abominations to continue.

Posted by: Joseph Wicklow | Jun 26, 2020 08:42

Christine, nice article.   I met Heide when she started her first store in Rockland, and have admired her successful growth since then.  Our Wheaten Terrier, Fiona, is a happy customer.  One correction about the article, however.  Susan Collins is a United States senator for the State of Maine, not a State Senator.  At this time of too much negative electioneering, this distinction seems relevant.

Joseph Wicklow, Camden

Posted by: Stephen K Carroll | Jun 26, 2020 08:35

Campaign season has begun and our longtime Senator Susan Collins is off to a good start.  Everyone loves their pets including Susan and why not stroke all the Dog lovers with a fun loving  visit with one of Maine's most prominent pet store owners.  After reading this fluffy piece all I can say is "bow, wow, wow".  Myself and many others have written to Senator Collins office asking for assistance and never received a reply, but finding common ground with pet owners seems to be more important than doing anything useful to help ALL of her Maine constituents.  Didn't mention in this article how much Heidi contributed to Susans campaign.  Hopefully Pepper is as good at following a trail.  Next year hope we can elect someone who has more concern for the people of Maine than just appeasing wealthy donors, and give Mss Collins more time to play with Pepper.

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