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The St. Louis Entrepreneurs Who Opened in the Pandemic 

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At Ciao Chow, Jessica Mastrantuono-Hellmann and Frankie are getting to know neighbors — and their dogs — even better. - PHUONG BUI
  • PHUONG BUI
  • At Ciao Chow, Jessica Mastrantuono-Hellmann and Frankie are getting to know neighbors — and their dogs — even better.

On the Hill, Jessica Mastrantuono-Hellmann spotted the future home of her pet store in the middle of one of the neighborhood's prime commercial strips.

"The more I looked at it, the more I fell in love with it," she says.

In July, she opened Ciao Chow at 1923 Marconi Avenue in the former home of Berra's Furniture. Mastrantuono-Hellmann has been involved in pet rescue since she was sixteen years old, and opening a retail shop was an opportunity to help fund her nonprofit All Paws Safe Haven. On a recent visit, she works behind the counter with the shop dog Frankie as well as Molly, a Staffordshire Bull Terrier puppy. The store is filled with dog toys, gifts made by neighborhood artisans and the shop's homemade pet food. Frankie slips off to the side and licks an extra of one of the doggy birthday cakes Ciao Chow offers. Mastrantuono-Hellmann is a third-generation Hill resident, and going into business here has only deepened her connection to the neighborhood.

"I knew most of the people here already, and now I'm getting to know them more personally," she says. That goes for their pets, too. Ciao Chow has become a regular stop on walks for dog owners, who drop in to buy a quick treat.

Cia Chow is now a go-to spot for pet owners on the Hill. - PHUONG BUI
  • PHUONG BUI
  • Cia Chow is now a go-to spot for pet owners on the Hill.

Opening during the pandemic has come with restrictions, including fewer of those personal interactions and just the general weirdness of the past year and change.

"It's not easy at any time," Mastrantuono-Hellmann says, "but [the pet business] is one of those industries that continues to rise. People will always spend money on their dogs."

The new shop has given her a central location. The separate rescue operation has always been foster-based, meaning it didn't require a physical space, but now that Ciao Chow is open, Mastrantuono-Hellmann can arrange handoffs there. In the future, she plans to add to the commercial business with a grooming service and maybe even expanded space. Eventually, opening in the midst of COVID-19 restrictions will just be part of the shop's history.

"The longer we're here," she says, "the more successful we'll be."


We welcome tips and feedback. Email the author at doyle.murphy@riverfronttimes.com or follow on Twitter at @DoyleMurphy.
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