Written by Carlo Massimo | Photos by Callie Broaddus
The walls of Tilley’s Pet Supplies are new. The paint, a comforting sage green, looks like it just dried; the metal of the freezers, filled with raw and gently-cooked dog food and liters of goat milk, is still shining. A framed black-and-white portrait of a horse watches over the register. The doors at Tilley’s Pet Supplies have only been open for a few weeks, and the store seems, impossibly, like it has both just opened and been there for decades.
Anyone who has ever met Megan Robitaille and her husband, Drew, will understand. The Robitailles don’t like to sit still. On Thursday, February 9 of this year, Megan noticed that the pet shop on East Washington in Middleburg, once the much-beloved Wylie Wagg and then a succession of other pet stores, had a liquidation sign out front. By Monday, Megan and Drew were in talks with the landlord; they were going to buy the shop. Neither of them had run a pet shop before, but of course that didn’t matter.
Megan is a lifelong Northern Virginian. Born in Warrenton, she grew up riding with the Casanova hunt and stayed local after graduate school. That’s about the only constant in her life. By her own admission, Megan doesn’t like straight lines or well-trodden paths. “My whole life has been like that,” she says, “going one direction and then suddenly in another.” At one point she had a bakery; at other times she taught at the elementary level and worked retail.
Drew, born in New Hampshire, has been here since 2008. Like Megan, he grew up in an atmosphere of dogs and horses. He started riding as a 2-year-old and trained for show jumping until age 24. His grandparents bred and showed huskies, and his aunt took medals at the Westminster Kennel Club show twice. His family had a feed store, but Drew’s first business venture was as a photographer. These days he has given up show jumping for triathlon training, which has him out of bed every morning at four.
There’s a third partner in this business, too: Tilley the corgi, one of the Robitailles’ four dogs. Tilley was a nice name for a store, Megan explains. “We have another dog named Bourbon,” she says, “which would have probably given people the wrong idea.” (“I wouldn’t have minded,” Drew adds.) Tilley and Bourbon are only a small part of the Robitailles’ vast herd of animals. At home they keep bees, 40 chickens, and tortoises, and are considering a Highland cow. Until 2019 they raised cattle on a small farm, which the pandemic forced them to sell.
For years this restless, energetic couple was without an outlet. That changed in February. Megan didn’t initially realize that the shop she was looking at, with the liquidation sign in front, had once been Wylie Wagg. She had visited once in 2004, just out of college, to buy food for her corgi. Wylie Wagg’s owners opened her eyes to what dog food could, or should, be. Up until then, she laughs, “I was feeding my dog crap.”
Megan and Drew explicitly modeled their shop on Wylie Wagg. They wanted to provide the best and most varied food for dogs and cats, and avoid the dreary atmosphere of most corporate pet supply stores. “Pet owners in Middleburg are generally conscientious and intelligent,” says Megan. “They’re readers. They know how to shop, and they love to try something new. This is like Christmas for them.”
Walk along the aisles of Tilley’s and you’ll see what she means. Every imaginable kind of pet food is on the shelves or in the freezers, from diet or hairball control dry food to extravagances like turducken dog food and — for German cats, presumably — Hasenpfeffer in dainty tins. Pumpkins and goat milk are popular remedies at the moment, in high demand, and customers generally know their way around the medicine shelves as well as the food selection. Their food meets all price points and is always holistic and authentic. Most of it, Drew notes with some pride, is human grade — just in case.
Megan insists that Tilley’s Pet Supplies could never have worked in a community without Middleburg’s farm-to-table culture. Even more, a shop like Tilley’s could not exist without the infectious energy of the Robitailles. Their ownership of the property only began on the first of March, and they opened for business on the 31st. In Drew’s words, they “gutted the place,” having painted, met with suppliers, mastered the point-of-sale system, hired staff, and learned, for the first time, how to run a pet supply store — and all this with children and animals and athletic training to keep up with. What’s their secret? Cassie Craft the manager and her six years of experience, according to the Robitailles. (Cassie is an artist as well; several of her paintings are displayed around Tilley’s.)
It’s no surprise that Megan and Drew are already working on the next phase of Tilley’s. So far, the only products they sell for animals other than cats and dogs are a limited selection of horse treats and other odds and ends. This is going to change, as customers have been asking about rabbit and turtle feed. There’s been some discussion about offering grooming services, as well, but that poses logistical questions. However, Megan has plans to use some of the space in the back as a pet bakery (“a barkery,” she laughs), drawing on her years as a baker to make dog biscuits and cat treats.
Tilley’s is open seven days a week. For more information, call 540-687-5033. ML
Tilley’s Pet Supplies
5B East Washington Street
Middleburg, VA 20117
Published in the May 2023 issue of Middleburg Life.