Pet Age recently spoke with Steven Waldron, owner of Aquarium Zen, an aquatics store in Seattle, Washington, that specializes in aquascaping, to learn what’s led to it becoming popular with area fishkeepers.
Q: Who or what inspired you to open Aquarium Zen?
A: I had been working as a technician in fish genetics labs for around 15 years and found myself getting burned out of laboratory science. Around the same time, I
was really getting more and more interested in aquascaping as a hobby and started realizing I had more talent as an aquascaper than a scientist. In 2012, my wife and I signed a lease and decided to take the plunge and start a boutique-style aquascaping shop here in Seattle.
Q: Your store has been described as a fusion of “old school” dedication with a stylish new look. How would you describe your store’s appearance?
A: I grew up in the San Francisco Bay Area and, back in the day, there used to be all these great independent aquarium shops that were my favorite places to go.
Each store was so unique and seemed more like an expression of the owner’s passion than a sleek business model. Some were literally hole-in-the-wall stores that once you stepped inside of this humble exterior, you were drawn into this magical space filled with aquariums. I wanted to recreate that experience here in Seattle and offer a place for people in my community to experience the magic of aquariums. We have dedicated a large percentage of our floor space to display aquariums that act as a gallery of ideas and inspiration for our clients or just people in the community who want to experience the beauty of aquarium life.
Q: How do you educate your customer on your philosophy of using aquascaping as a way of connecting with nature?
A: We invite curiosity from our customers by displaying and presenting these aquatic animals and plants at their best. When people get inspired and start asking questions, we then look for these teachable moments and start revealing aspects of ecology and natural history. For example, if someone asks me how many cardinal tetras they should buy for a school, they are going to get a mini lesson about Amazon ecology and insights into rainforest ecosystems, flooded forests and blackwater habitats. I believe aquariums are a portal into a greater understanding of the natural world, especially for urban people who don’t get out into nature much. I always tell my customers that the difference between a “fish tank” and an “aquascape” is that the fish tank is more of a simplified aquatic cage and an
aquascape is more of contained ecosystem that replicates some of the complex cycles and systems found in nature. They start getting excited by that idea.
Q: What are the products that your average customers seek when they visit your store?
A: Most of my customers are just seeking relief from the dull offerings at the big box stores or looking for expert advice. Aquarium Zen is one of the few retail distributors for Aqua Design Amano products, and we draw in people seeking to see, understand and purchase these beautiful and rather rare aquascaping supplies.
Q: Is there anything about you or your store that sets Aquarium Zen apart from its competition?
A: I think one thing that really sets Aquarium Zen apart from other stores is that I haven’t lost my passion for my hobby. Even though I have been doing aquariums for 35 years, it’s important to me to keep that passion strong and the fire lit for the hobby just as it did when I was a little kid pouring over old TFH magazines and stalking my local fish stores. I only sell products that I would use myself, and all of our livestock is cared for as if they were in my own home aquariums. I am still 100 percent hobbyist at heart.