Downtown Huntsville is remarkably walkable therefore easy to explore with the dog.
Just be ready to stop a lot.
“Can I pet your dog?” a young boy says as we’re walking through Big Spring Park – it’s a small but perfectly landscaped urban oasis surrounding a tiny natural spring and stream filled with koi and exotic ducks. Pellet dispensers encourage families to feed the ducks – that’s a thing here in Huntsville.
In front of the Von Braun Conference Centre two blocks away is a huge fountain water feature containing – you guessed it – koi and ducks.
“What kind of dog is he?” the sales associate at Harrison Brother Hardware about four blocks from Spring Park asks me. My terrier Victor’s allowed to roam with me through this historic store established in 1879, the oldest hardware store in Alabama and now run as a non-profit by the Historic Huntsville Foundation. One side of the shop is stacked floor to ceiling with garden products and kitchen gadgets; the other features local artists and crafts on open tables and shelves.
The products might have changed during the last 100 years, but the décor hasn’t. Inside are the original wooden general store counters from front to back, cupboards from floor to ceiling and under-the-counter cubby holes filled with different sized nails. Even the original elevator is intact, along with the founding owner’s desk strewn with piles of discoloured papers on display in the back.
We spend a long time in the store – mostly talking about Victor, my little black terrier mix. He helps himself to water from the dog bowl outside.
“People in Huntsville love dogs. Pretty much everyone has one,” artist Cindy Wagner tells me at the Lowe Mill Arts and Entertainment Center about a five-minute drive from downtown. A former industrial building now repurposed and gradually renovated inside, Lowe Mill claims to be the largest independent arts facility in America with more than 200 working artists in various genres – painting, sketching, photography, multi-media, jewelry, pottery and vintage clothing.
If everyone in Huntsville has a dog, then so does every artist with a studio in Lowe Mill.
Victor is welcome to walk the painted and worn wooden floors with me between narrow artists’ studios each with front windows revealing what’s inside. If the door is open, walk in. Victor too.
“You can park him when you go to the coffee shop,” Wagner says. “Here, let me show you.” We walk out of her studio and around the corner to the hall’s end. There is it: a clean bohemian-esque café serving fair trade coffee and ‘toast’ sandwiches – combos of organic veggies and free run eggs served open faced on a cutting board.
Outside the entrance, sure enough, there’s a dog parking spot: a hook for a leash, a window revealing resident dog Max, and a doghouse painted on the wall. This is Victor’s stop while I order lunch. Of course, he barks.
A dog biscuit comes with each purchase to reward patience. Victor gets one anyway.
Today, a weekday in May, artists at Lowe Mill are preparing for the evening’s Art Crawl – twice a year all galleries in Huntsville remain open late. Lowe Mill is no doubt Art Crawl party central and it’s the reason we can’t participate in the drop-in painting workshops offered at Denise Onwere Gallery. Other days, visitors can paint their work of art at $20 for 11×14 or $26 for 16×20.
Clearly, Victor can’t paint a canvas, but he can stay with me if I did.
I guess you can say, not only can you shop for art with your dog in Huntsville, you can create art with your dog too … and I thought eating lunch with him was novel.
TRAVEL GUIDE: Known as the Rocket City, Huntsville, according the mayor, is home to more engineers per capita than any other city in the U.S. Whether that’s true, Huntsville is clearly impacted NASA’s presence here and the city’s ability to assemble rockets.
The U.S. Space & Rocket Center along I-565 is a must-stop for any visitor, space loving or otherwise. Home to the Saturn V Apollo moon rocket (it has its own building), this Smithsonian Affiliate museum tells the moon-landing story and you enter a life-size space station. Weeklong Space Camp for kids attracts local and international students.
Madison, Alabama is a fifteen-minute drive from downtown Huntsville. There’s a pet-friendly Red Roof Plus where of course we stayed. It’s a 10-minute drive from the dog-welcoming open air shopping at Bridge Street Town Center. Dog-welcoming shops display white paws in the window and dog events from noon to 3 pm on held on specific Saturdays throughout the year.