CENTRAL CITY – For several years, married couple Cas and Brianna Bing lived under the radar of Central City, running their online business from their home.
The couple’s business, Bing’s Pets, had sold handmade dog and cat collars on virtually every continent, but the Bings weren’t well known in their city. Brianna Bing said: “People in Australia think I’m cool, but nobody here knew us. So I figured we should get out of the house and do this.
“The” was born out of the couple’s love of dogs and expression of their creativity, explained Brianna Bing. “We named (our dog) after a Pokémon (character) and I wanted him to have a Pokémon collar.”
Brianna scoured the web for a Pokemon collar and came up with nothing – but Cas had an idea. “He can just think of things – ‘I have this idea. And I want it to be real.’”
Cas had sewing experience when he and Brianna were students at Grand Island Senior High. Why not just make the collar they wanted?
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“That’s what we all started with,” Brianna said. Her creations caught the attention of some animal lovers on Instagram, and the Bings realized they had found a niche in the market.
“We got into it as a hobby, but then it was like, OK, I guess that’s our job. This is our life,” Brianna said.
Brianna describes the use of dog and cat collars/harnesses as “the dog collar subway”. Shoppers can choose from a variety of fabrics and designs, including collars, harnesses and vests – including service dog vests.
Business was booming after launching Bing’s Pets in 2015, but Brianna and Cas were longing to get their living room back.
“It took over the whole house – everything. It would flow into the living room,” Brianna said. She realized it was time to make a decision. “I thought, I want a house – and I want to work.”
A building on the eastern edge of Central City became available, once a space occupied by Hilder Implement and still owned by the Hilder family. Brianna said she and Cas decided to take a dip.
“I thought, well, just for fun, I’ll call.”
The Bing’s Pets stationary location had been found.
After some simple touch-ups, the store at 819 16th St. is starting to fill up. Fabric and buckles line the walls behind the front counter, Cas’ sewing machine is on a side table, always ready to hand.
After losing his beloved dog, Cas became interested in Beta Fish. With the help of Facebook groups and other fish community resources, Cas got a handle on breeding betas.
At the pet store, a cart full of plastic containers filled with tiny fish is a testament to Cas’s hard work and research. Brianna is clearly proud of her husband.
“They’re starting to change color. The process of breeding the beta fish was the coolest thing I’ve ever had the privilege of watching him at work. It’s not like some fish where you just throw them in a tank and they do their thing. Absolutely not with beta fish.”
Other tanks with fish – and a hard-to-find shelled creature called a killer snail – take up a small area of the store. There are also catnip toys, aquarium supplies and lots of locally made pet show items.
Cas and Brianna also train a service dog, the pet shop is a perfect place for socialization. Milo, still a pup, is the latest of several service dogs the couple has trained — and there’s more service dog training to come, the couple said.
There are plans to make Bing’s Pets a place for other dogs to socialize — not just Bing’s service dogs in training, Brianna said. “We hope to be able to hold the Puppy Play Day on Saturday. It will be totally free. People bring their puppies in the morning and they can socialize in a safe place.”
Assistance dogs have long been a part of the couple’s life. Both Cas and Brianna have disabilities that benefit from service dogs. Having their own business allows them to create their own schedule, bring service dogs, and have more independence than they would otherwise have.
Brianna said she’s thinking about what she would do without Bing’s Pets: “My mom was always in management and I had managed to manage, but with my disabilities I just know I couldn’t make it. I’m also not the type to submit to other people’s rules. (Cas and I) are both very independent. Honestly, if we didn’t do this, I’d be working at a gas station and hating my life.”
The couple’s social circle would also likely be smaller. Brianna said Central City has been a supportive and encouraging community to start a small business.
“Before, we had the feeling that nobody knew us. Now I can’t go anywhere without people saying, ‘Hey, do you have this?’ Or “Hey, I heard that,” which is great. It’s nice to be appreciated. Central City Chamber (of Commerce) is really great. You have been very supportive. They have helped us sponsor events; We made clay dog paw prints last Christmas and we held a Valentine’s Day event.”
Brianna and Cas said they would like to see more visitors and more shops in their area. Brianna said: “Our biggest thing is we need more people to come. People don’t always go on like this. You go to the grocery store and that’s about it.”
The more the merrier – Brianna said that Bing’s Pets would like to have more neighbors and that there is ample opportunity for that. “There’s Lincoln Manor that needs restoration… there’s several retail spaces. Yes, please join our community!”
The Bings are as welcoming as their community family has been to them. Brianna said: “While I’m sure it would be great to be constantly busy, I prefer to have time to talk to people. A little slower business allows us to actually talk to people and it builds a better relationship. Besides, we’re not that lonely.”
Jessica Votipka is an education reporter for the Grand Island Independent. She can be reached at 308-381-5420.