A planned community in Stillwater, Minn., is just the right fit for Dr. Ginger Garlie's Rivertown Animal Hospital, which mixes modern medicine, neighborly warmth, and old-fashioned charm.
Dr. Ginger Garlie chose the location for Rivertown Animal Hospital in what seemed like the perfect setting: next to a glittering pond, a gelato shop, and a handful of other neighborhood businesses in a planned community full of perfect clients. And today, everything runs smoothly. A big well-lit treatment room facilitates back-room traffic. A welcoming lobby with warm colors, an inspirational quote, and a beautiful heirloom quilt greets clients. A comfort room eases the grief of mourning pet owners and provides a quiet place for acupuncture and special exams.
On the waterfront: The beautiful landscaping that clients love, including a pond, was already there in this planned community when Rivertown Animal Hospital was built. (Photos by Brian Droege, Brian Droege Photography)
The building process was unquestionably "rewarding and fun," Dr. Garlie says, but also challenging. Here's why.
Before Dr. Garlie began her new hospital in the planned community of Liberty Village, she convinced residents they wouldn't mind her clinic moving into a spot previously zoned for restaurant use. A lengthy approval process meant presenting plans to preservation and planning committees before a thumbs-up from the city council. Her architect helped convince private residents that the hospital would fit the area's architectural style.
By this time, it was winter—and cold season in Stillwater, Minn., is no joke. That's why Dr. Garlie had planned to start building in early summer. By the time she and her team broke ground, they had to deal with weather-related difficulties. First, rain soaked the soil in a particularly wet fall before builders could lay the concrete. So the construction crew framed the building first. With that done, Dr. Garlie could finally visit the site to watch her dream hospital being built—in the frigid chill of winter. In fact, the builders had to bring an auxiliary gas heater to keep the crew warm enough to work in below-freezing temperatures. "I thought it was odd that the heat was on and the windows were open," she says. "Then I remembered there were no windows yet."
The hospital and its other amenities-like the warm, inviting comfort room (above), and well-lit waiting area with spacious ceilings-had to be built. "Our location in such a unique housing development was a good choice," Dr. Ginger Garlie says.
Dr. Garlie estimates that winter construction added $100,000 to the cost, but her no-down-payment loan from a bank meant she had ready cash. "A friend of mine told me that in almost every project you'll do, you'll wish you had that extra money," she says.
Before winter's cold had passed in February, the building was done.
Dr. Garlie had started Rivertown Animal Hospital from scratch in a strip mall 12 years before the new building was completed. The original facility was attractive enough for a leasehold, but no natural light reached the interior, and quarters were cramped. For a clinic practicing a sophisticated level of medicine, it failed the image test.
A look at the numbers: Rivertown Animal Hospital
The new Rivertown Animal Hospital is wide open with high ceilings, natural light, an open treatment room, and a gorgeous interior and exterior. Floor space is designated for endoscopes, video otoscopes, ultrasound machines, and a dental station. "We finally have space to do all the things we've been doing," Dr. Garlie says. With the open treatment area, "if you need something, you don't have to leave the room and run out and ask for it," she says.
The hospital's exterior is also welcoming, featuring benches for pedestrians to stop and linger along the large pond next to the facility. The comfort room was also a crucial part of the plan. And it's garnering good reviews from grieving pet owners, relaxed pets receiving acupuncture treatments, and emergency clients who can wait in a relaxing environment with calming music. Dr. Garlie says one cat owner visited the clinic after helping a friend bring in a cat for euthanasia. "He wanted to form a connection with a hospital that took good care of aging pets," Dr. Garlie says. "When it came time for possible euthanasia for his own cat, he wanted our kind of setup."
A healthy glow: Morning light from tall windows bathes team members and patients. The "dormer" window high in the ceiling adds to the effect.
When it comes time to expand, Dr. Garlie plans to use the mostly empty second story for office space and a future first-floor add-on for four more exam rooms, an expanded waiting area, and retail. That should take care of her only current regret: giving up storage space. Dr. Garlie had to sacrifice some of her pet food storage to install a sprinkler system.
Dr. Garlie says that even in this economy, her income has continued to grow year-over-year, both in her old facility and in her new location. A major street closure hurt business when the building opened, but she doubled her marketing efforts: a big open house with a band and free food, a "vet school" for kids, an in-clinic educational scavenger hunt, and a pet costume contest. The future now looks good, and that's thanks in no small part to the past.
Floor Plan: Rivertown Animal Hospital
An emblem of that past hangs in the hospital waiting room: a colorful quilt that Dr. Garlie's grandmother made years ago out of shirts that Dr. Garlie's father wore when he went to veterinary school in the 1930s. Dr. Garlie's niece and brother have also followed in her dad's veterinary footsteps, and his advice has rung true: "You won't get rich as a veterinarian, but you'll have a good life."
His other inspirational quote to Dr. Garlie came in the form of a paperweight engraved with the words of Eleanor Roosevelt: "The future belongs to those who believe in the beauty of the dream."
Show us what youve got
"For me, this building and what I've been doing is the dream," Dr. Garlie says.