It would be safe to say that fishkeeping is a lifelong passion for Jamie Lanier.
Growing up in Hong Kong, her dad kept a 100-gallon fish tank at their home where he bred a tropical fish called discus. In fact, on the day she was born, Lanier’s father received a large shipment of new fish, which he watched over with his new infant in his arms.
“I spent the first two days of my life just staring at fish,” she said with a smile.
Though she found success in other fields in life, Lanier’s lifelong passion for fishkeeping finally motivated her to open Aquarium Pro in Centralia’s Fairway Center in July. Through the store, she hopes to share her passion and expertise with others, as well as help encourage the next generation of hobbyists like herself.
“I hope this can be the new face of what mom and pop aquarium stores can look like,” Lanier said.
The roots of Aquarium Pro started when Lanier was a child and opened a pen business with her parents, in the process catching the entrepreneurial bug. At the age of 23, she opened a skate shop in Santa Rosa, California. A few years later, she earned a degree in graphic design and worked in that field for a few years.
Her childhood love of fish was rekindled when Lanier was given a used fish tank by a friend. She went to her local chain pet store and found a female koi betta that reminded her of the koi ponds that were prevalent in Hong Kong when she was growing up. She also learned that unlike male bettas, which are aggressive and cannot live together, females can be put together in what is called a sorority tank. Wanting to learn more, Lanier and her father visited Aquarium Paradise in Lakewood where Lanier received both an education as well as an inspiration.
“He didn’t try to sell me a fish or a tank. He just talked to me about how to test for different parameters and about the nitrogen cycle,” Lanier recalled. “It was the main reason I wanted to open my own place. I had a mission to educate people.”
Working for a few years at corporate pet stores, Lanier learned that often employees aren’t properly trained to educate consumers about the animals they are purchasing. She spent her own time learning this information and talking to would-be fish owners about the proper way to keep their pets healthy. For instance, once set up properly, fish tanks are fairly low maintenance and set up can be done inexpensively, Lanier explained. But what most first-time fish owners do not realize is that you should purchase your tank at least one week prior to your fish because you need to create an environment that is healthy for the fish before introducing the fish to its new home.
“When I got into this hobby, I realized there weren’t a lot of friendly, educated people who want to share that knowledge with others,” Lanier said.
Before opening her own aquarium store, Lanier also spent several months working at Beverly’s Pet Center in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, which has a 20,000-square-foot fish section and a staff of 25 in the fish department and 10 in fish tank service.
“The whole time, I was picking the brains of those people who worked there,” Lanier recalled of her time there.
After returning to Washington, Lanier did another short stint at a corporate pet store and began to amass a following of fish owners who would seek her out for her knowledge. She even made up her own “Aquarium Pro” cards and would make service calls after business hours. Eventually, Lanier had enough clients that she decided it was time to strike out on her own and open the gallery-style aquarium store she had been envisioning for years. She originally attempted to open in the Olympia area, but the location had to be scrapped when it was unexpectedly damaged in a storm. She then found an open space at Centralia’s Fairway Center, which she said has been a great move because she has discovered there is a large number of hobby fish keepers in Southwest Washington but no local aquarium-specific shops serving them.
“I was pretty surprised with the amount of salt water keepers that are here and they were driving to Portland and Seattle to get what they needed,” Lanier said. “Now, they’re happy to be shopping local. The feedback we’re getting is really great.”
Eschewing the low lighting and hot and humid climate of many other aquarium stores, Lanier set up Aquarium Pro to look like a gallery. Along with an inviting atmosphere, Aquarium Pro also offers Lanier’s passion and expertise in areas such as creating low-maintenance ecosystems for fish and even aquaponic setups. About 20 percent of the fish in the store are locally bred, including some that Lanier breeds herself. All fish are quarantined for at least two weeks before they can go to new homes, to check for illness or stress. There are tanks with single species but Lanier said she wanted to focus on tanks that had groupings showing aquatic animals and plants that can thrive together.
“We have not just baby fish but adults so you can see, ‘wow, this is what its going to turn into,” Lanier said.
Customers having a good understanding what size an animal will grow to is an important piece for Lanier. Some of the animals at Aquarium Pro, including shop mascot Big Red, a red-tailed catfish, were rescued from homes where they were no longer wanted because they got too large.
Aquarium Pro sells new tanks of varying sizes as well as used fish tanks for $1 per gallon. There are also already established nano tanks for those who just can’t wait to get their fish home. Lanier said she plans to soon offer “Build a Bowl” workshops for adults and kids, which will include a coupon to come back in to get their fish once the tank has had a chance to be established. Aquarium Pro has examples of tanks that range from modern setups you might see at a professional building all the way to nano tanks made out of found items such as a glass drink dispenser.
“It’s not about the money you’re spending on your tank, it’s about what you’re putting into it,” Lanier explained.
In addition to the typical aquarium store offerings, Aquarium Pro also offers a few innovations including a fish food refill station. Pet owners can bring in their own container and mix and match different kinds of food for their particular pet. They also offer basic aquarium chemicals and strata in bulk. Lanier explained that offering items in bulk is a chance for her to reduce her store’s carbon footprint, which helps keep natural bodies of water cleaner.
“Out of all the population who should care about the environment, fish owners should be at the top of the list,” Lanier said.
Lanier would eventually like to expand the business into more square footage, to be able to offer more tanks and fish. She also said if she ever finds someone knowledgeable enough to work with, she would also consider adding other small animals to their offerings. Aquarium Pro is also closed Sundays and Mondays to give Lanier time to do service calls. She would eventually like to add more service employees and be able to have the shop open seven days a week. One long-term goal Lanier has is to eventually franchise the Aquarium Pro model to other mom and pop stores so that more people, especially kids, can have easy access the hobby.
“It’s one of my goals, to educate the next generation of fish keepers,” Lanier said. “It’s hobbyists like us that really helped keep some of these fish species alive. I’d like to get kids into the hobby so that 20-30 years from now, they’re going to be the ones breeding the fish and keeping the species alive.”
Location: 1739 Kresky Ave., Centralia
Hours: Open 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. Tuesday through Friday and 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. Saturdays
Learn more: myaquariumpro.com or AquariumProPNW on Facebook or Instagram