Something's fishy in Kennewick

By Loretto J. Hulse, Tri-City HeraldDecember 30, 2012 

There's nothing edible at The Fish Guy, a new Kennewick store, unless you're a fish.

Lorren Johnson sells marine life, but not the kind you serve on a plate. His finny creatures are brightly colored, alive, swimming in freshwater and saltwater tanks -- all destined to become someone's pet.

The Fish Guy, in historic downtown Kennewick, is an aquarium shop. Johnson and his wife, Carie, opened the store last month and stock freshwater and saltwater tropical fish and products and supplies for both.

This is their first venture into retail, but Johnson's been making house calls, maintaining aquariums from Yakima to Dayton, since 2002. Maintenance, for aquariums and outdoor ponds, still is a large portion of his business. Johnson also does complete aquarium setups, including custom aquariums.

"For 10 years I've worked out of my home and car. It was time to make the leap and open a retail store," he said.

Johnson said he doesn't intend to compete with other pet stores.

"My goal is to make available the fish, the accessories, the fish foods you don't see every day," he said.

Johnson's knowledge of fish and aquariums came from working at Aqua Tropics, a Kennewick pet store.

"I started there while I was still in high school and worked there off and on for years. Put them all together and I probably have 25 years experience working with fish and other animals. My knowledge of pets does not stop at fish, but they're my favorites. That's what started my career. I really enjoy the interaction with people, educating them about fish and aquariums," he said.

In 2002 he became The Fish Guy, maintaining and setting up aquariums in homes and businesses.

He has 42 regular clients whose tanks he services monthly.

One of those -- a 725-gallon freshwater tank -- belongs to Greg Markel at Washington Securities and Investment Corp. in Kennewick.

Markel has had a fish tank at his offices for 25 years and Johnson has been maintaining the present one for 10 years.

"He's very, very knowledgeable about fish, both their behavior and diseases. He can come in and look at a tank and, yes, obviously the glass needs cleaning, but he can tell if something else is wrong physically," Markel said. "That's more important to me than the fact that he comes in and cleans the tank.

"I think the main thing I like about him is his knowledge and caring. You can't beat that combination. It makes a big difference having someone in who knows what they're doing," Markel said.

Johnson has other clients who just call him when they have a need, usually when something's gone wrong.

"Makeovers are a big part of my business," he said.

One call came from a woman with a 55-gallon aquarium built into her staircase.

"She said I was her last hope. The fish were dead, the tank was half full of cloudy, smelly water. She simply did not know how to care for an aquarium," Johnson said. "But she couldn't just take it out. It's part of her banister. She would have had to rebuild the staircase."

But for $400 Johnson installed a new filtration system and added new fish and plants.

"She was so happy she called her all friends and neighbors over to see it," he said.

He also taught her how to maintain it.

"I want people to succeed," he said. "Too often people go into one of the big box stores, buy a tank, some fish and set it up. Two months later the water's cloudy, the fish are dead and the tank ends up in the garage."

"What people don't realize is each tank has to establish its own ecosystem, its own balance of bacteria," he said.

Johnson compares aquariums to a balance beam.

"Mess with the good bacteria and (the) ecosystem in your tank falls off the balance beam. We provide the ropes, the knowledge, that keep you on the balance beam," he said. "The larger the tank, the wider the balance beam, which is why larger tanks are easier to care for."

Johnson stocks a variety of aquariums in many sizes and can order others. Glass fish tanks range from the common 10 gallons up to 750 gallons for freshwater fish and up to 240 gallons for saltwater.

Custom tanks, built of acrylic, come in any size you're willing to pay for, he said.

A typical 55-gallon aquarium, with fish, a light, plastic plants and other decorative accessories easily can run $1,000.

"But it's amazing how an aquarium can become a family hobby. It's interesting how even the youngest kids get into fish," Johnson said.

The Fish Guy, 222 W. Kennewick Ave., is open from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. Tuesday-Friday and 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Saturday. Phones: 491-1346 or 947-1401. You also can find The Fish Guy on Facebook.

Tri-City Herald is pleased to provide this opportunity to share information, experiences and observations about what's in the news. Some of the comments may be reprinted elsewhere in the site or in the newspaper. We encourage lively, open debate on the issues of the day, and ask that you refrain from profanity, hate speech, personal comments and remarks that are off point. Thank you for taking the time to offer your thoughts.

Commenting FAQs | Terms of Service