PITTSFIELD -- There's still a dancer's pole located inside the former Munchies Pub on West Housatonic Street. But these days, it's dogs that congregate around it, not people.
Munchies, proposed as the site for a nude dancing establishment seven years ago, recently became home to a dog day-care boarding facility, Love Us and Leave Us, run by certified dog trainer Renee DeRagon of Pittsfield. The business officially opens on Monday.
DeRagon is the first business owner to take a chance on the 112-year-old structure since Munchies went out of business in the early 2000s. The property has changed hands since then, and proposals have come and gone. But the building had been vacant for so long that the property was becoming noticeable on West Housatonic Street's commercial corridor.
"We had talked with a lot of different folks," said Mick Callahan, who owns the property with his brother, Jamie. "But it was always a combination of who's going to put the money in."
The Callahan brothers purchased the parcel, which is a little less than an acre, around five years ago at an auction held by former owners Frank Penna Jr., Joseph Breault and Dennis Barry. The brothers also own property that adjoins the parcel.
"Restaurants right now are very difficult to finance," Callahan said. "Some talked about expanding the building, or raising the building and put something good in there. We kind of sorted through it all, and came to terms with Renee."
The timing was definitely right.
The 35-year-old DeRagon, who had been running the business out of her home since 2006, was looking for a site so she could separate her personal and professional lives.
"I'd been driving by it forever," she said. "It had a fence already here, it's properly zoned for a kennel -- there's not a lot of places in Pittsfield that have that. And it's in a good location, right on Route 20."
DeRagon originally contacted the Callahans with her idea a few years ago, but said they were more interested in using the property for a restaurant or as office space. But they were interested when she called them again last June.
"I gave him a good business plan," DeRagon said, referring to Mick Callahan. "He's really helped me a lot during the whole process with the city. I think he really believed in it, and definitely wanted to see something happen with the building. We've been working on it for a year."
"We knew Renee, and we knew of her business through other people, a friend who had used her services," Callahan said. "We did some research on it. It's an exciting business model that's taking hold around the country."
DeRagon has a 10-year lease.
At Love and Leave Us, the dogs run in the backyard during the day. DeRagon and her three full-time employees also take the dogs on hikes. Lengths of stays are flexible.
"We've done everything from a half-day to a month," she said.
DeRagon does not use kennels for the dogs who stay overnight. They sleep in a large room in the back of the former restaurant. She said the dogs get so much exercise during the day that they fall asleep pretty quickly.
"It's free-range boarding," she said. "I have a big sectional couch I'm bringing in here. They kind crash out on that. It's kind of like being at home with more dogs."
DeRagon, who has invested around $20,000 in renovations, left the bar and the kitchen area of the former restaurant intact.
"The bar's a good reception area," she said. "It works well. I'm going to put a groomer in the kitchen. That works because there's a drain and tile floors."
There's also the dancer's pole, which DeRagon said she's reluctant to remove for structural reasons. It currently serves as an interesting conversation piece.
"It's the first thing that people ask me about," she said.
"I never went to Munchies," the Lanesborough native added. "But I've heard a lot of stories."
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