The chief executive of a St. Louis-based company stunned local businesspeople Friday with an email canceling the Dec. 6 Sacramento Pet Expo, attributing the decision to the civil unrest resulting from the police shooting of a young black man in Ferguson, Mo.
Sheila B. Rilenge, head of Amazing Pet Expos, said the company’s headquarters sits in a location that has been designated a “flash point” by the National Guard, and its employees live in areas where violent protests have devastated businesses. On Monday, a St. Louis County grand jury announced it would not indict Ferguson police Officer Darren Wilson in the Aug. 9 death of 18-year-old Michael Brown.
“The tension here remains palpable, and we don’t anticipate it being over any time soon,” Rilenge said. “Under the circumstances, we DO NOT have ample staff available who feel comfortable leaving their home, young children, elderly parents and/or pets in order to travel across the country.”
The company had scheduled shows for both Pomona and Sacramento on the same date, Rilenge said, but protests around St. Louis have some of her employees questioning whether travel is wise.
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“Most of us with Amazing Pet Expos ... live in the parts of St. Louis that have been most heavily featured in news reports and our office is located in what’s described by the National Guard as a ‘flash point,’ ” Rilenge stated in the email. “We have the National Guard and their armored vehicles everywhere – from our grocery store parking lots to our hospitals, many of our local businesses are boarded up and/or have sustained major damage.”
Rilenge told me that roughly 100 vendors were scheduled to be at the Sacramento show at Cal Expo, and she was expecting between 8,000 and 10,000 consumers to attend. The pet expo in Pomona has a smaller footprint – in terms of square footage – and requires a smaller travel team, Rilenge explained, so the company will staff only that event on Dec. 6.
Land Park resident Maria Morais Shields had planned to use the Sacramento Pet Expo as a launching point for a food dish she designed for cats. Shields, who had Auburn’s PRe Plastics produce 5,000 bowls to sell at the show, said she was upset about the cancellation.
“I spent so much money,” she said. “I’m not rich.”
Shields has had cats as companions since she was 5 years old, and she noticed that her pets couldn’t eat without creating a mess around their dishes. Two years ago, she started designing a bowl that would keep the food contained, and once she got it just right, she had it patented.
“This bowl has edges on the side that block the food from coming out,” Shields said. “I also put nonskid pads on the bottom of it, so it won’t move around.”
Friends with felines tested out the bowls and gave her a thumb’s up. Shields told me she began reaching out to retailers and the media. Two Sacramento stores, Taylor’s Market at 2900 Freeport Blvd. and William Glen at 2310 Fair Oaks Blvd., have added the Messy Meow bowl to their inventory.
Her sister, who worked at the Macy’s in San Francisco’s Union Square, began telling co-workers about the patented bowl, and as word spread among the staff there, a great marketing opportunity opened up for Shields. The store’s merchandising manager offered to include Messy Meow bowls in the retailer’s holiday window displays, all six of which feature live, adoptable cats and dogs.
Shields thought it was a perfect tie-in since a percentage of her sales go to the Sacramento Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals. The bowls – and the animals – will be in Macy’s Union Square windows.
Then Shields got the email from Rilenge around 2:30 p.m. Friday. Her website, www.messymeow.com, wasn’t scheduled to launch until later this week, she said, but she made a plea to her designer and got it up and running Friday afternoon.
Rilenge told Shields and other vendors they would receive a refund and a phone call from her staff. Amazing Pets also offered to accommodate them at the Pomona show or others in San Jose or San Diego.
Call The Bee’s Cathie Anderson, (916) 321-1193. Follow her on Twitter @CathieA_SacBee.