For fish distributor Matt Cowger, getting hugged once a week is standard practice.
It’s not that Fish Bowl Too pet shop owner Brenda Troup is overly affectionate. It’s because it has been 20 years now that Cowger, of American Aqua Culture of Akron, Ohio, has been making his weekly deliveries of angelfish, bettas and cichlids to the shop on North Warren Avenue in Apollo.
Fish Bowl Too is celebrating its 20th anniversary Friday.
“Nobody grows arowana like Brenda,” said Cowger, holding a 2-inch long, plain-looking fish, one of three arowana he delivered Tuesday. Troup has a live specimen about 2 feet long, one of the stars of the pet shop.
The arowana are popular and pre-ordered for customers.
“It’s a nice family business that has been good to us and their customers,” Cowger said.
It’s a family business in the truest sense. It was started by patriarch, Dean Troup, 84, of Apollo, in 1975, who did it as a sideline to his full-time engineering job at Chestnut Ridge Foam in Latrobe.
He was the guy wearing the welder gloves who would stick his hands in the tank to pet the electric eel.
It’s all about fish for him.
“They’re quiet — and you don’t have to take them for a walk,” he said.
Even in the middle of a small town, Dean Troup said his business does well because “there’s a lot of people who need pet supplies.”
Plus, customers need answers to questions such as, “when will my tadpole turn into turtle?”
Tadpoles, of course, grow into toads or frogs, not turtles.
It’s where his daughter, Brenda, now 49, honed her entrepreneurial skills as a young girl selling pet rocks.
Dean Troup’s job, as well as a family illness, closed the store for about 14 years.
But, when the elder Troup retired, he wanted a pet shop again.
In 1999, the store reopened with Brenda Troup taking the reins with the help of her father.
Asked what he does at the shop, the elder Troup said, “I fix what she breaks.”
Brenda Troup knows the store is a rarity these days, citing few small, independent stores in the region.
And it’s not the big box pet stores that pose the greatest threat but Amazon, according to Troup.
Fish Bowl Too keeps its prices as “low as comparably as can be,” she said.
But it’s what Amazon and the big box stores don’t offer that accounts for the survival of the small shop: Seeing and touching animals that were carefully selected and socialized along with “heartfelt recommendations” that no ordinary store clerk could make.
The small shop vibe continues to draw loyal and new customers from throughout the Alle-Kiski Valley, Troup said.
Indeed there aren’t any “clerks” at Fish Bowl, but volunteers who are there to dispense advice and to learn from both Troups.
Melissa Umbaugh, of Vandergrift, volunteers to spend time with the pets. She sets aside “playtime” to take the rats, gerbils, and other small mammals out of their cages. When Umbaugh takes a break from home schooling her children, she brings them to the shop, where they learn and help with the animals.
The shop sells a wide selection of fish, rescue cats, mice and other small mammals, some birds, pigs, fish tanks and a wide selection of pet supplies.
“Here’s a handful of cuteness,” said Brenda Troup recently as she held four Chinese hamsters. “They are so docile you can pick them up by the handful.”
Times have changed since Troup romped around her father’s store.
Now, the shop offers rescued cats, a cause dear to Troup, who founded a New York City rescue and continues to bring some of those kitties to Apollo. In the last decade, according to Troup, she has “re-homed” nearly 1,000 cats she rescued from there and locally.
And, for the first time, the pet store will start offering fresh and frozen bait for fishing, taking advantage of the popularity of recreational fishing on the Kiski River, which wasn’t a viable activity when the elder Troup originally opened the shop more than 40 years ago.