The Rest is History

Twelve years ago, I went into a small reptile store that I had found in the Yellow Pages. I told the salesclerk that I wanted an iguana. He spent the next thirty minutes explaining to me exactly why I probably did not want an iguana (they get enormous, can become very aggressive without daily handling, they need specialized lighting) and showing me many alternatives that would be a much better fit for my lifestyle and expectations. And he was right. I had imagined a gigantic, dog-tame lizard wandering around my house like a dinosaur on the prowl without ever considering what the animal actually needed.

I listened to his advice. He recommended a leopard gecko. They didn’t have any at the moment, but that was okay. I could find the right caging, get everything set up, and wait for the day I could take home my lizard. I waited. And waited. It was the wrong season for baby leopard geckos. I already knew it would be worth waiting for. I could trust that this shop would not  sell me something I was not ready for.

 I spent my wait studying books and learning what to look for in a leopard gecko. Some of us search a whole lifetime without success, but I am happy to say that I found the lizard of my dreams.

The prettiest little gecko ever

And in a few months, he turned into this:

I loved this lizard!


After about 8 months, every bit of black had disappeared, leaving him a solid orange. He was my pride and joy. And he needed some friends. Girl friends. All purchased at the same wonderful shop. The employees knew me on sight and were always happy to show me their newest arrivals. They helped me find an incubator so that I could start raising the little critters on my own and gave me solid advice about incubating and working with neonates.

When the Padawan was 2 days old, my first baby geckos hatched. It made an impression on all of us. When my daughter was asked about the exciting new arrival in our house, she talked about the geckos.


Some of my first hatchlings. Aren’t they tiny?


Over the years, I expanded to new and exciting animals. I got my first bearded dragon, a couple of corn snakes, a ball python or two, all of them purchased from my favorite little shop, and most of them bred by the owner.

He had a big sale every year that was like a small reptile show, exhibiting and selling species and color varieties that were hard to come by, giving away free hot dogs and t-shirts. He even brought in the local reptile vet to answer questions for customers and encourage them to get proper vet care when necessary. The prize for the top salesperson was bragging rights. A note was affixed to a tacky blue ceramic baby bootie bank for the next whole year. Legend had it that anyone who won The Blue Shoe three years straight would get a trip to Hawaii. I did that, the note reading “Heather’s shoe forever and ever.”

Yesterday, I worked my last shift at that store. After 23 years of business, the doors are closed for good. Lots of people came in to say goodbye and express their sadness at the store’s leaving. Lots of them admitted that they typically shopped at the big box stores. One customer actually said “I always shop at (insert name of big box store here), but I figured everyone else would shop here because the quality and prices are so much better.” I didn’t know how to respond to that.

I also didn’t know what to say to the customers who used to come in and spend forty-five minutes or more asking questions and getting detailed information about an animal’s requirements only to drive down the street to big box store to purchase the supplies; the big box store whose poorly trained employees don’t always know the proper care of the animals they were selling.

“I always come here for my crickets, though.” they said loyally.

Cricket purchases don’t keep the lights on, friends. If we want to have small business in our community, we need to shop there. If we expect to be able to call on someone knowledgeable to help us when we have a problem, we need to support them financially. Sometimes it means driving a little bit out of our way, sometimes it means having to pay a little more. Is it worth all of that to have a specialty store available to us? I think so.

So thanks for everything, Mike. And I’m still waiting on that trip to Hawaii.

29 thoughts on “The Rest is History

  1. Beautiful post, excellently stated.

    We all need small specialty places like this in our towns, and it’s so sad that people are willing to forget about that.

    [huggy emoticon guys]

  2. Wow, that’s insane that people actually said some of that. You raise a really good point in this post, and one that i think a lot of people forget. Supporting small business is a way of ensuring we have options, expertise, and people with passion available to us. Sucks this had to happen. Sorry for the loss of such a great place.

  3. I worked at one of those shops for a couple of years in grad school. I loved it there so much. I got to play with reptiles (and amphibians) and got paid for it! And we had the best customers in the world, so knowledgable and sweet and loyal.

    I’d walk around with our bird-mascot on my shoulder, or with a White’s tree frog on my shirt like a brooch, and I got to see corn snakes hatch, and I got to feed the animals when I opened the shop. It was like an Amy-wonderland.

    Then the owner sold the shop to a man with a cash register for a heart who didn’t care about the animals, only about the bottom line, and if we didn’t sell enough he would shout at us in front of the customers, and the customers stopped coming, and I quit not long after (not without crying and saying goodbye to each and every animal, including the gigantic cage of a billion anoles.)

    I’m sorry about your shop. This breaks my heart. Small shops are the best, and when I’m finally settled and money’s not so tight, I’m getting some reptiles and amphibians again (and I’m going to the local pet store, because it’s where I get all my pet supplies, and I love them over there.)

    And I love your gecko! He is beautiful! Leopard geckos were one of my favorite animals we had at the shop!

    • When I left the shop last night, I had gathered some supplies that I needed, along with a new baby snake. He called us even, though the value of supplies was worth far more than the few hours of service. And when I got home, I found a pay envelope tucked into the baby snake’s cage. I cried a lot.

  4. I went to the big box pet store a couple times and was horrified at how little they knew about not just the specific animals, but basic biology. I remember the worst was the frog tank. There was nowhere for them to sit and be able to breathe, so they had to swim until they died, up at the tiny space of air by the bright lights.

    The tank was littered with probably a dozen frog corpses and two frogs desperately swimming until they couldn’t, then floating and resting until they needed air, then swimming again. I mentioned to the clerk that the frogs needed a place to sit so they could rest and sleep and still be able to breathe. She said they were swimming frogs so they were fine. “They’re not fish,” I said in a way I hoped was diplomatic. “They need to breathe air.” She just kept “reassuring” me until another customer came along.

    I’m sorry to hear about the store. That’s such a step in the wrong direction.

  5. How sad. I’m sorry, it sounds like a great little place. My husband is really into aquariums/fish and I can’t imagine going to a big box store instead of one of the two we usually visit. The staff there are just like you said– so knowledgeable, passionate, and helpful.

  6. They are cute! (for lizards).
    I work at a fabulous nursery. People call us and come in and write for all kinds of advice, and then they go to Home Depot to buy their plants. Then they call us again, wondering why their Home Depot plantings don’t look as good as ours.” … mmmmm, I don’t know.”

  7. I went to a giant pet store to get a leash for my new puppy years ago. I didn’t realize until I got home that the kid sold me a teeny CAT walking contraption. Always preferred smaller stores with friendly (educated!) folks behind the counter. Really sad to hear about your store closing. Sounds like we could definitely use more like it.

  8. That’s so frustrating – especially the idea of using the knowledgeable small store for knowledge, then running off to the box store. The big box petstore in my area makes me angry… the few times I have used it, and had questions, I’ve left empty-handed and pissed off, because I, the first-time-dog-owner, know more than the person working for a petstore.
    Sorry to hear your store closed… I hope the cricket-buyers realise what a mess they made of things by not supporting it.

  9. I ALWAYS prefer mom and pop shops to any of the big name stores! So glad you posted this. I’m sorry that your beloved store shut down… 😦 at least you have you geckos to remind you of better times 🙂

  10. I am very sorry for this big change in your life. Wow! That is just so sad. I hope people will take your words to heart. I think there is going to be a resurgence of Mom and Pop stores. Too bad it was too late for your shop, though.

  11. We have a local pet store that’s been there since I was a kid. (I frequented their dinosaur department regularly.) Still there. Still smells funny. We’ve owned a couple of rabbits from there and more fish and hermit crabs than I can count. I think I’ll stop by tomorrow and buy dog food. Even though I don’t really need it.

  12. Sad. I am not familiar with the reptile world myself, but I totally agree with the observation regarding the poor training the big box stores provide their employees. I’ve noticed that when new parents/recent immigrants us made the mistake of shopping for our first baby stroller in let’s just say one of the big box stores thinking their expertise should be unmatched. Unmatched it was only not in the way we expected…

  13. I love this post. I hate big box stores. I’m so sorry that the one you worked at became a casualty. My mother owned a fabric store priced out of business in the 90’s by a big blue box store in our small Mississippi town. 😦

  14. I’m with the crowd — and down on those horrible chain stores — they smell, they sell crap and they don’t know the animals. We have a lovely store here in my village — the current owner bought a failing shop and has turned it around with her personality. Which, of course, is what makes a small store so inviting to begin with.

    I’m so sorry that you lost your store —

  15. I try to encourage everyone to shop at local, small businesses. I am so tired of the big box stores – and their stupid Thanksgiving Day hours were pathetic. So sorry about your shop. 😦

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