Two Turtles Pet Center, a mainstay of Akron’s Highland Square neighborhood, is closing after 36 years.
Husband-and-wife owners Rick Johnson and Mary Kay Roediger are retiring, and selling off remaining fish, reptiles and hard goods, such as filters and aquariums at discounted prices — 30 to 40% off — beginning Friday.
They’ll shut down the shop at 760 W. Market St. on Sept. 15.
The business — nestled in a small strip plaza — has carried on despite the rise in chain pet stores and online retailers who weren’t even on the scene in 1983, the shop’s founding year.
A key to the store’s success has been its focus on hard-to-find fish, Johnson said Wednesday, standing in the store that houses dozens of tanks containing everything from iridescent sharks — a species of shark catfish — to goldfish.
“We used to sell so much dog food … we brought Iams here" to the area, Johnson said, referring to the popular dog food.
While the store has faced increased competition, Johnson and Roediger are getting out of the business because they’ve had enough of long hours, little free time and cleaning fish tanks.
“Thirty-six years is a long run for any job,” Johnson, 69, said. “My father worked at B.F. Goodrich [as a factory worker] and he worked 30 years” and then retired.
“When you’re doing retail, you’re always working,” Roediger, 62, said.
“Now is a good time to retire,” she said, explaining that she and her husband are excited about spending more time traveling with their 5-year-old granddaughter, Estella Johnson, who starts kindergarten soon. The couple will watch her after school.
On Wednesday morning, Estella was at the shop, where she visits frequently. Carrying a plastic cage containing her crickets, Estella walked around and greeted people.
"Are you giving them a tour?" Roediger asked Estella, who had struck up a conversation with a few customers.
Efforts to sell the business were stymied by the fact that the Two Turtles’ lease is up.
Some people are daunted by the amount of work the shop requires, Roediger said.
“It’s a very demanding job," she said. "You have to have knowledge about [fish] husbandry... It’s cleaning fish tanks every day. It’s a little intimidating.”
It’s been years since the shop sold cats, as well as other mammals, such as guinea pigs. The couple would take in stray cats, get their initial shots and then sell them. This was before many of the rescue organizations began in the area.
“Thank goodness they did,” Roediger said.
The couple met while working for a tropical fish distribution business outside Cleveland.
Johnson, a tropical fish enthusiast, worked in the "fish room," caring for the fish and selling them — via telephone — to pet stores.
Roediger sold hard goods — such as filters and aquariums — and packed orders.
"We got our background there, and then decided to borrow the money and open our shop," Roediger said.
They named the place Two Turtles after their two tortoises that used to wander around the shop. After one of them was stolen, they sold the other one.
"We had two sons and they kind of grew up here," helping out in the store when they were old enough, Roediger said. "I have so many good memories working here."
The sons returned to working in the store after college, before deciding to "do their own thing," Roediger said. Son Jesse Johnson works with computers, and son Jamie Johnson is in customer service.
Roediger said she's proud the store was a source of employment for so many years.
Nicholas Heim, a 21-year-old University of Akron student, was a customer first and then an employee.
He heard about the shop from an employee of a chain pet store who told him it was a place to find "the hard-to-find fish."
"I'll definitely miss working here," he said. "l'll definitely have to go farther to find more fish."
Contact Katie Byard at 330-996-3781 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her @KatieByardABJ on Twitter or on Facebook.