Stepping inside Elsy’s Bird and Feed store, any shopper can tell the experience is going to be fun.
An 8-foot, brightly-colored metal rooster looms over the entrance, as a gray African parrot named Paquito chirps a cheerful “hello,” and a large macaw named Rio flies over rows of bird seed, dog food and treats, pet and bird toys and three cages housing a cluster of canaries.
Any shopper also will find the experience exciting, educational and inspirational.
The 25-year old family business, located at 1441 Hartwick Rd. in the East Aldine District, is owned by Elsy Alamilla and her husband, Francisco. They started the store after Francisco, a veterinarian trained in Mexico, was laid off. Then the veterinarian and bird lover wanted to start a new business venture.
With three children to raise, Elsy was skeptical. The former school teacher had taken a retail job, and she enjoyed dressing up for work, not to mention the discount on clothing. While Francisco was on a recent vacation, Elsy was free to share her initial feelings about going into business.
“At first, I said, ‘Let me think about it.’ But my husband said, ‘I need your help,’ ” Elsy said. “So we opened this store, when there was nothing out here. And it was tough when we started. It took almost three to four years before we were successful. And there were some days it was very hard.”
“My husband is strong, but I saw that I needed to be strong, too,” Elsy said.
What started out as a small business, selling about 10 bags of feed a week, has mushroomed into an enterprise that sells about 48 to 50 tons of seeds and feed every two weeks.
Behind the retail store, there is a large warehouse, as well as chicken coops and pens for other animals. Parakeets, doves and a few quail are also housed in the warehouse. The business has nine employees, including four part-time workers who are students.
In addition to hard work, Elsy attributes their success to a strong sense of community.
“I am very grateful to this community because they supported us. I don’t have the words to tell the gratitude I feel,” Elsy said.
That support stems from her belief that the seed and feed store is, in large part, an educational mission.
“We don’t just feed their animals. We teach them how to take care of their animals,” Elsy said. “It’s more than seed and feed. We take care of their animals’ health.”
“For me, the most important thing you can do is get a good education. I was able to do that for my children,” Elsy added.
Her emphasis on education helped the couple’s three children.
Allesandria, their daughter, holds a degree in communications from the University of Houston and works as a television reporter. Their son Johnny holds a degree in economics from UH, as well as an MBA from Texas Southern University. Although he works for the Bank of New York, he has been helping at the seed store during a Covid-19 work break.
Frank, the youngest of the children, is a veterinary technician who works full-time in the business.
Both sons admire their parents’ entrepreneurial spirit and sense of community.
“Because of that spirit, I have had the opportunity to go as far as I want to go,” Johnny said.
Frank sees his role as continuing his mother’s educational mission.
“Every customer who comes in here gets treated like family. But the learning experience can be phenomenal,” Frank said. “The passion that we have for animals is what helped us to grow. And we love sharing that with our customers.”
Frank said that any good business should be about learning.
“I shouldn’t have a product to sell that I haven’t learned about,” he said. “And the people who work here do love animals. Maybe this will inspire them to go into a professional that involves animals. And I make sure they learn something new every day.”
The products on display in the store reflect the owners’ love of animals.
Every possible bird “toy,” from chutes and ladders to strings of wooden stars, line the back wall in a colorful display. A rainbow of leashes of all sizes decorates the dog and cat area, which features every possible kind of shampoo, supplement or toy.
“What it all comes down to is, I love animals,” Elsy said. “I think my customers can tell.”
Elsy’s Bird and Feed Store
1441 Hartwick Rd., Houston 77093
— by Anne Marie Kilday