Animal instincts

Alaska Affordable Veterinary Care is now open for business.

Alaska Affordable Veterinary Care is now open for business.

For years, the 3,200-square-foot space in the Mountain View Plaza remained empty, and tens of thousands of dollars in renovations sat unused inside.

The space was once occupied by the Anchorage Neighborhood Health Center, which opened its Mountain View clinic in 2002. The strip mall storefront was built out into a fully equipped medical facility — and ANHC moved out of the neighborhood several years later. Since then, realtor Gary Petros said he’s been holding out for the right tenant and hoping for a comeback.

“I had a lot of people that asked about it, but I was trying to save it for medical use,” said Petros, an agent with Jack White Commercial.

Then, this past October, a young doctor signed a lease.

Anchorage’s commercial real estate market conditions and the location aligned, and now Dr. Jessie Rizor and his small family are preparing to open the first veterinary practice in Anchorage in more than a decade.
Rizor said he has a good feeling about the neighborhood.

“That part of town doesn’t have a vet clinic and it’s kind of underserved,” said Rizor, who hopes to open Alaska Affordable Veterinary Care in January.

There are reasons behind the lack of vet clinics in north Anchorage. Rizor said many veterinarians only stay in Alaska for a limited period of time, and many are hesitant to take on the risk of opening their own practice. On the other hand, Petros said Anchorage’s real estate options are limited. Mountain View in particular is also subject to a persistent stigma that manifests itself in empty storefronts and vacant lots.

“It’s just the reputation of Mountain View isn’t very good,” Petros said. “It has a reputation as being one of the poorer sides of town.”

But Rizor and his wife, business co-owner Ashley Rizor, said they saw it as an opportunity. The neighborhood continues to grow steadily, adding several major housing projects this summer alone.

“[People] were like, ‘You want to invest in Mountain View?’” Ashley Rizor recalled. “And we were like, ‘Heck yes we do!’ Everyone has pets.”

Their plan to base their family business in northeast Anchorage is part of a growing wave of economic development in a previously stagnant side of the community.

The couple has always envisioned opening their own practice: Jessie Rizor said he’s wanted to own a clinic since he graduated. When he moved to Alaska for a vet job three years ago, he started scoping things out and noticed an immediate blank spot on the map. There are no Anchorage veterinary practices north of DeBarr Road, except for the limited-service clinic at Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson.

Rizor said a demographics analysis yielded promising results. With more than 7,000 people living in Mountain View, according to U.S. Census data, and thousands more living in Fairview, Downtown and Government Hill, he believes there’s plenty of opportunity for a veterinary practice in Northeast Anchorage.

But when it comes to opening a new brick-and mortar business within the municipality, the choices are somewhat limited.

“We don’t have much vacancy across Anchorage,” Petros said. “It’s getting harder. Most malls charge an arm and a leg.”

The commercial realtor said many of the more popular commercial locations around town are already completely full. At the Mountain View Plaza, Petros said, the old ANHC space was the last one available.

It wasn’t the first place the vet looked.

Rizor said he initially tried looking for space at Tikahtnu Commons and Glenn Square, but was boxed out by non-compete rental agreements with the malls’ existing pet businesses. He searched for the right property for about two years, until one day he drove up into Mountain View by chance and noticed the “for rent” sign at the Mountain View Plaza. Ashley Rizor said she and her husband were blown away by what they found.
The price was significantly less than anywhere else in town. And, more importantly, they said the existing infrastructure from the ANHC days would help save their fledgling practice thousands of dollars in startup costs.

“It was an affordable option,” Jesse Rizor said.

Saturday, the husband-and-wife team and their two-year-old daughter, Aurora, spent the afternoon at their future clinic, chipping away at a laundry list of chores. Transforming the former neighborhood health center into a veterinary office involves painting, ripping up carpets and knocking down a wall or two. Equipment, ordered and shipped from the Lower 48 at a steep cost, has yet to be installed.

Since he signed his lease at the end of October, Rizor has spent every evening and day off putting together his new practice. His wife and daughter share in the long hours. They said the paperwork involved with Small Business Administration loans is a job unto itself.

Dr. Jesse Rizor and his daughter, Aurora, at the site of their future pet grooming business at the Mountain View Plaza.

Dr. Jessie Rizor and his daughter, Aurora, at the site of their future pet grooming space at the Mountain View Plaza in Nov. 2014.

They’ve painted exam rooms in soothing blues and greens, and plan on decorating the clinic with the work of renowned Anchorage pet photographer David Jensen.

At the front of the space, adjacent the reception area, there’s a large room with street-facing windows that will eventually house the clinic’s grooming practice. Currently, it’s filled with random furniture and various odds and ends left over from previous Plaza tenants. Rizor pointed to the empty back wall that will eventually house a bank of kennels. He said he initially hopes to see around 18 animals per day and hire about eight staff, including veterinary technicians and receptionists.

That’s just for starters.

As they put the finishing touches on their new clinic and prepare to open their doors in January, Rizor and his wife said they have big plans for long term development and a tenacious confidence in their new neighborhood. Ashley Rizor said they dream about growing their family business in a part of Anchorage rich with untapped potential.

“We think this is an ideal place to do that,” she said.

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