La Jolla groomer Gloria Erickson retires

After about four decades as a dog groomer in La Jolla, Gloria Erickson retired in January … for real this time. Although she retired before, she says this time it’s for good.

Known for her gentle touch and the “Zen environment” she creates for pets, Erickson said she worked with area groomers before opening her own shops. But growing up with dogs that had long fur, Erickson has been brushing coats and learning how to bathe them her whole life. “I had an Afghan Hound and they are like movie star dogs, they have long fur,” she said. “I thought if I could groom this dog with all this fur, surely I could be a good dog groomer. So I started by going in as a brusher and bather.”

She went on to dog grooming school to expand her skills and then entered the work force.

In La Jolla’s early days, The Cottage Restaurant was a petstore called the Village Pet Shop, and that’s where Erickson got her start in the 1970s. “Whenever I go to The Cottage these days, I try to sit near where my grooming station was,” she said. Although she grew up in San Diego, she moved to La Jolla in 1976 to be close to work.

By 1983, she had her own shop, Classic Grooming of La Jolla (now Classic Grooming of La Jolla and Green Pay Grooming) on Fay Avenue. She ran Classic Grooming for more than 25 years before her first retirement.

Longtime customers Tom and Brenda Lester said they’ve been bringing their Bichon Frise, Lily, to Erickson for years. “We were always impressed with the beautiful job she does. Not only with our dog, but with some of our friends’ dogs,” Tom Lester said. “She loves dogs, and probably cats, too, and they love her instantly and she has a way with them. I can’t say enough good things about her.”

Pending the occasional Saturday visit, Erickson suspended her professional dog grooming for a short while and focused on her own dogs. A pause the Lesters said they wish didn’t happen. But because rescuing shelter dogs “has always been a big part of my life,” she moved to Ramona so she could have land for her dogs to run and roam.

It didn’t take long for Erickson to come out of retirement. Almost immediately after handing over Classic Grooming, she opened Gloria’s Pet Spa on Herschel Avenue. “I liked that I paid Herschel Avenue rent but got frontage on Girard,” she joked. Adding her name to the business was her brother’s idea. He told her, “People know you in this town, you have to put your name on the business!”

Erickson said she wanted her new shop to be one-of-a-kind, with a nice atmosphere where the dogs are happy. “So instead of cages I made little exercise pens with dog beds and water bowls and toys,” she said. “I had had enough of loud noises, so I wanted quiet hairdryers and equipment. I wanted to create a Zen environment so the dogs wouldn’t bark.”

Erickson ran the business, bringing on enthusiastic groomers to carry out her vision, and she trained them in her ways. “I wanted them to do things like I did and not use the production-line style that many places use,” she said, noting that some groomers will see 30-40 animals a day. “A lot of salons bring all their dogs in in the morning and they just wait there all day,” she said. “I wanted to space out the appointments and see fewer dogs each day to give them a little more attention.”

Carrying on her legacy, Michelle Drummond bought Gloria’s Pet Spa from Erickson in January 2015, after the two worked together for four years. “Her chief concern was always the animals’ care and being really kind to them; it was a huge motivation for her,” Drummond said. “She was one of the gentlest groomers I’ve ever worked with.”

Although she was confident leaving the grooming spa in Drummond’s hands, Erickson said she knows she’ll miss it. “I’ll miss the customers the most because they have become good friends. And of course, there are always special dogs I’ll miss,” she said. She offered these tips for picking a groomer:

Does the owner have pets or volunteer to help homeless pets, because some are just in the business for the money.

Can you see the grooming area? Are the cages clean? Are there foul odors? Do they re-use towels and tools, because this can spread bacteria.