Like millions of other pet owners, Julia Kesten and Tina LaFleur were horrified last year when dozens of animals died after eating tainted pet food. But unlike millions of others, they were inspired to start a business—the Polka Dot Puppy Paw-tisserie and Boutique, which opened on Main Street in early April.

Kesten and LaFleur make specialty dog treats. Using their own recipes, they bake everything from scratch using organic ingredients—wheat, soy, eggs, chicken broth, beef broth, peanut butter, and more. There’s even a vegan treat that includes apple shavings and carrots.

Their signature Little Woofers are shaped like dogs and cost 25¢ apiece. Bone-shaped carrot cakes are 75¢ to $2.50, and refrigerated “puppy pizza” slices, made with real cheese, are also on the menu. The Polka Dot Puppy also carries some dog toys and accessories. You can bring your pet into the store and buy a cup of Starbucks coffee while your dog chows down.

Kesten has a German shepherd named Sunny, and LaFleur owns a Labradoodle named Lily. Lily isn’t choosy and will eat just about anything, but Sunny’s pickier, so she’s their go-to taste tester for new recipes. “Tina’s actually tried them” too, Kesten says.

LaFleur, twenty-five, and Kesten, twenty-six, are neighbors. Neither has owned a business before—Kesten’s a former paralegal, and LaFleur was a nanny. Both are married, and neither has children. “Our dogs are our kids,” Kesten says.

Polka Dot Puppy Paw-tisserie and Boutique, 8118 Main, Dexter, 424–2820. Tues.–Fri. 10 a.m.–7 p.m., Sat. 10 a.m.–8 p.m., Sun. noon–5 p.m. Closed Mon.

Victoria Schon parlayed a degree in art history from the University of Michigan into a job in interior design. But art still beckoned. In 2003 she moved from Ann Arbor to California and took up oil painting. Three years later she moved to Dexter and rented studio space.

Included in the rental were a couple of rooms she didn’t need for herself. Schon recalls, “I thought, ‘It’s a shame that they’re sitting there empty—I could offer this space for other artists and hang their work and a little bit of mine.'”

And so Schon opened the Daisy Lake Art Gallery late last year in second-floor quarters at Main and Broad. In March she held an exhibition of works celebrating the vernal equinox. In May she held her first juried show, devoted to the female form.

The gallery is small, and Schon has given it a living-room feel: paintings hang close together above furniture, tables, plants, and lamps. Most works on display are by southeastern Michigan artists, with an emphasis on representational art like landscapes and still lifes.

Daisy Lake Art Gallery, 3205 Broad, second floor, suite A, Dexter, 424–1363. Tues.–Fri. 1–6 p.m., Sat. 11 a.m.–6 p.m., and by appointment. Closed Sun. & Mon.

Bella Gardens closed last winter after eight years in the big yellow barn at 1885 Baker Road. Now the original owners are back. Mike and Janet Sloan reopened the shuttered nursery in late April after spending three months sprucing the place up.

Mike’s dad, Louis, had owned the barn and surrounding property since the late 1940s. He had owned Sloan’s Nursery and Garden in Detroit, and opened the Dexter location in the early 1970s. He sold it to his son in 1979. In 1999 the Sloans rented out the building, and it became Bella Gardens.

This time around, Mike and Janet dropped Sloan from the name. “Our immediate family lived in Dexter for twenty-eight years,” Janet says. “We felt that Dexter Gardens was an appropriate name.”

The new business has longer hours and a larger selection of flowers, and it stocks all kinds of trees, plants, annuals, perennial flowers, garden decor, seeds, mulch, and more.

Dexter Gardens, 1885 Baker, Dexter, 426–6600. Mon.–Sat. 9 a.m.–7 p.m., Sun. noon–5 p.m.

Originally published in the Summer 2008 Community Observer, Ann Arbor, Michigan