At this year’s reader-backed W42ST Best of Awards, Hell’s Kitchen’s passionate, particular pet owners picked Pure Paws as their purrfect veterinary care business. W42ST caught up with Dr Stephanie Liff to learn more about the veterinary group’s pet care philosophy and creating a creature community in the neighborhood.
Originally from Cleveland, Ohio, Dr Liff studied at the University of Michigan and received a Doctorate of Veterinary Medicine from the University of Florida before interning at BluePearl Veterinary Partners in Midtown. “When it came time for residency, I only matched in Chicago, and I didn’t want to leave New York — so I stayed,” said Dr Liff. “I went to work at a large, multi-doctor practice in a residential neighborhood on the Upper West Side, which really solidified my desire to stay in New York long-term,” she added. “They didn’t have an option to become an owner and I wanted to expand my career in that way, so I went to work with a former partner in Brooklyn.”
Dr Liff took over the practice in Brooklyn, establishing it as Pure Paws before expanding to Hell’s Kitchen in 2016, a move she had been thinking about for some time. “I really liked the Hell’s Kitchen neighborhood — it has a sort of small-town feel, but there’s still lots of growth in the area.”
In addition to building a modern, state-of-the-art practice, creating a personable, client-focused clinic was a priority for Dr Liff and her team. “Even though we are hi-tech and I have a lot of doctors working with me, I try to focus on being more of a small, family practice where a lot of clients have my cell phone number,” she said. “I return calls and emails 18 hours a day —people can reach me and we try to be accessible in that way — and we know the client’s name and know their pets and their families,” she added. “That’s probably the main reason that we’ve seen such growth in the six years. We try to be more relationship-based and I think that’s very on brand with the neighborhood.”
Six years on, Dr Liff and her staff value the relationships they’ve forged with West aside pet owners. “The community here is surprisingly strong,” she said, countering the notion of Midtown as a disjointed commercial zone. “So many people in Manhattan Plaza and some of the other residents on 8th, 9th and 10th Avenue have been here forever,” said Dr Liff. “As a transplant, it’s a really interesting perspective to see how the neighborhood has changed and everyone is so committed to the neighborhood, which is really great as a small business owner.”
She added: “New residents choose the neighborhood because not only is it on the water and is it pretty and convenient, but people like that neighborhood feel – everyone seems to know each other, and when they go to the dog park they know each other.” Walking around between shifts, “I always run into a client or patient,” said Dr Liff. “I have clients that have become friends, and I’m able to socialize with them and have more of a connection to the city, which is a really unexpected but nice outcome of being here.”
The relationships Dr Liff and her team cemented in their first years of operation were especially vital during the COVID-19 shutdown. “As an owner, navigating that for my team – keeping them safe, and managing all of the different anxieties that arose from the pandemic was certainly a very eye-opening, dynamic experience as a business owner,” said Dr Liff. “We pivoted our entire business in about five days from people coming in and sitting in a room, to dropping off patients at the door and telemedicine — and that went on from March 13, 2020 until Memorial Day of 2021.”
Veterinary telemedicine was a unique challenge: “It solidified the importance of service and following up,” adding that the difficulty of having pet patients who could not communicate their health over Zoom was a hill in the veterinary industry that Dr Liff didn’t expect to climb. “I had all these clients that I had never met, and it was interesting figuring out how to connect without being face to face – but I think it helped us in a lot of ways in terms of how we deliver service.”
As New York continues to reopen, Dr Liff’s practice is busier than ever: “The puppies that people got in the pandemic are still here,” she laughed. Pure Paws is back to offering both in-person visits, but is keeping the option for pet owners to elect curbside drop-off and pick-up. “It speaks to the convenience and trust we’ve been able to build in the community — where they feel like they can drop their pet off and they will be cared for, even if they’re not with them. But ultimately, it’s been so nice to get back to making these relationships in person, even if it’s just saying hi or giving someone a quick hug.”
With the Hell’s Kitchen practice thriving, the Pure Paws team is in the midst of planning another West Side outpost in Hudson Square, due to open in December. “We are also looking for space in other boroughs, which will hopefully come to fruition as well,” added Dr Liff.
Having experienced the pride of practice ownership, she hopes to pass the baton to other prospective vets and pay it forward. “It’s a passion of mine to be able to open practices and put individuals into first-time ownership,” she said. “It’s a largely female-dominated industry, but it’s still nice to be a female business owner and be able to give other people the same opportunity.”
Pure Paws is located at 502 W42nd Street between 10th and 11th Avenue. purepawshellskitchen.com