Business owner has a fish tale for you… and other parts, too
Cory McElroy’s earliest memory of a home aquarium was at an aunt’s house; she had a couple of goldfish in a bowl of water turned green from lack of care.
Who would have guessed that a couple of decades later he would own a business that specializes in freshwater fish and aquarium systems for the casual and serious hobbyist alike.
Aquarium Co-Op in Edmonds, located in Firdale Village, is the result of McElroy’s increasing fascination and love of the hobby.
When he reached his 20s, his interest was piqued when he saw the aquarium of a friend who put in the time and care that revealed the beauty of the hobby.
McElroy purchased his first aquarium, and among the fish he bought were some Black Mollies that quickly reproduced. That led to an interest in breeding, a hunt for like-minded enthusiasts, and membership in the Greater Seattle Aquarium Society (GSAS).
Like many small business owners who must compete with the Big Box stores, McElroy focuses on things those big stores often don’t provide – especially service.
He has added waiting areas inside and outside the store, because sometimes customers may have to wait awhile for service.
How, one may ask, is that good service? Because once you’ve got him, he’s yours until you’re satisfied.
“People want honesty,” McElroy said. “Unfortunately, at the box stores, they’re trained not to say no.
“People tell me, ‘I’m so glad to find someone who will help me.
“On a Saturday, the wait can be 30 minutes. But you’ll always get as much time as you need. It’s the opposite of the ‘turn & burn’ stores.
“People come here because they want to get their time.”
Another important difference in McElroy’s business plan? He is fiercely dedicated to sustainable approaches. Almost all the fish he sells are bred locally, as are the plants. And he specializes in aquarium systems that are as self-sustaining as practicable.
It starts with the fish he sells, almost all of which are bred in Washington or Oregon. That enables McElroy to buy them in person, to check out the breeder’s operation and determine if he wants to do business with that person.
His fellow enthusiasts appreciate that dedication.
Roy Slettevold, GSAS president, said when McElroy joined the organization, it was obvious he was a serious hobbyist.
“From the beginning, it was apparent that Cory was not the ‘average hobbyist’ because he was keeping and breeding some of the more difficult species in our hobby,” Slettevold said.
Becoming one of the most active members of the club, McElroy “singlehandedly revived our Breeders Award Program where our members are recognized for their accomplishments breeding various species of fish,” Slettevold said.
Steev Ward, an original member of the 40-year-old club, agreed.
“I like the positive directions he is following,” Ward said. “He has been and still is a valuable member of our club.”
McElroy prefers freshwater fish that are raised by serious hobbyists because when either fresh or saltwater fish are caught in the wild, their habitats are destroyed by entrepreneurs only interested in a quick buck and not the long-term viability of the ecosystem.
In fact, many endangered fish – and some thought to be extinct – are now only found in the care of breeders.
“It’s very hard to reintroduce a fish once it’s gone,” McElroy said.
McElroy’s sustainable approach is apparent throughout the store where he adapts used items as much as possible, working with a builder who likes to build “very green,” he said.
McElroy uses recycled wood for shelving and other needs, LEDs to reduce electrical use, individually filtered aquariums with water recycling systems, and other sustainable approaches.
Finally, and perhaps most importantly, McElroy encourages cooperative efforts, whether it be with his suppliers or customers.
Among the programs offered through GSAS is a pets in the classroom program that provides grants to teachers who want to utilize an aquarium for instruction.
“The goal is to get kids back in nature instead of video games,” McElroy said.
On the local level, McElroy works with children who show an interest, providing them extra attention and assistance. He recalled a young man who recently asked for a specific kind of fish and plant to build an inexpensive ecosystem.
Commenting on the youngster’s knowledge, McElroy learned he had done an experiment in school and wanted to continue over the summer.
Pleased with the boy’s interest and aware of his financial limitations, McElroy told him they could work it out. “I said, ‘Anything you need, you can get,’” McElroy said.
“He had so much fun building an ecosystem in a bottle. That’s exactly the kind of thing that needs to be happening.”
McElroy urges parents to get involved along with their children.
“You hear parents say no all the time. I have urged parents to say yes to something that’s good for their kids,” he said.
“My job is not selling to a child, but to the whole family; it has to be a family project.”
Getting started is surprisingly affordable. McElroy said a novice could get an aquarium system, fish and plants for about $150.
Established hobbyists throughout the region appreciate McElroy’s approach, too.
“His shop has quickly become one of the favorites of local hobbyists, including many of our club members who will travel 30 miles or more to shop there,” GSAS president Slettevold said.
Fortunately for Edmonds residents, it’s just around the corner.
Aquarium Co-Op is at 9661 Firdale Ave., Edmonds. Phone: 206-533-2281. Email: email@example.com