“All we have now are frozen clams,” says Oliver Vallier to a customer asking about brine shrimp in the closing days of University Aquarium, the Westgate pet shop specializing in fish. It opened forty-five years ago. Vallier and partner Donna Hatch have owned it for the last twenty-seven.
Clams, brine shrimp, “marine cuisine,” and “emerald entree” (for vegetarian tangs and angels) are some of the specialized fish food Vallier kept in the freezer. Rummaging around for the clams, he pulls out a baggie of frozen mice. “These are for snakes,” he remarks. “Some snakes prefer them to live mice, because live mice often bite back. You don’t get that kind of information at the big-box pet supply stores.”
Vallier, sixty-two, will continue his aquarium cleaning business (the yellow tang that has lived at University Aquarium for fifteen years will be moving to Mott Hospital). He says a couple of people have tried to buy the business, but “when they went to get a loan, the bank said ‘no thanks.'”