How the COVID-19 Pandemic is Impacting Aquatic Retailers

Absolutely Fish in Clifton, N.J., has staff available to continue to care for the store's fish during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Amid the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, companies are being categorized as either "essential" or "nonessential." Technically, it’s up to cities and states to decide, according to a Business Insider article. Basically, though, essential businesses are those that people rely on in everyday life, while nonessential businesses tend to be more recreational.

So, where do aquatic retailers fit in? According to industry insiders, they, along with other pet retailers, should be deemed as an essential business because of the products they carry needed to keep animals healthy. Even if these retailers don’t need to close its doors, business isn’t flowing as usual.

Three aquatic retailers weigh in on how their business is being affected by the pandemic:

Are local fish stores "essential" businesses when it comes to pandemic store closure considerations, and how are you coping with restrictions?

"We’re hopeful that pet stores will remain open as an essential service because of the food, medication and supplies we provide that people need to keep their animals health … but that means we have to do so safely. We have to create more distance between staff and consumers. We have to sterilize more surfaces, all high-touch surfaces. We have to be cleaning constantly. We don’t know how bad this is. The CDC [Centers for Disease Control & Prevention] says that we’ve only had three total months to study this virus. We don’t know what we don’t know. We hope what we are doing isn’t an overreaction, and that we will be coming out of this faster than we think, but we just don’t know. Because we don’t know, it would be foolish not to take these precautions."—Jim Seidewand owner of Pet World in Rochester, N.Y., and board member of the Pet Industry Joint Advisory Council (PIJAC)

"We’re trying to make sure that we are intentionally avoiding serving customers’ wants, while still meeting their needs. We have to really focus on customers’ needs, to make it clear that we are necessary. Because too often, [aquarium retailers] are thought of as places that satisfy wants and not places that meet customers’ needs. We are offering curbside service. We’re also offering controlled in-store service, where we don’t have animal areas accessible. … We are also offering a delivery service for those who can’t go out. That’s something we’ve added in this time of need. To that extent, we are vulnerable as independent retailers, but we’re also flexible."—Rick Preuss, owner of Preuss Pets in Lansing, Mich.

"Business is ridiculous right now. It’s an indoor hobby. Everybody has to stay inside. But this topic [the potential for store closures] is on everyone’s mind. … I’m just trying to have a good attitude. I am worried because there’s a possibility that we’ll have to close. So, we are already proactively thinking forward. We know that we have to keep a small skeleton crew to come in and take care of the animals. … What goes through my head is, ethically, are we doing enough to protect customers? Do we want to crowd the store this much? So, we decided to shorten our hours. … Also, if any employees don’t want to be here or feel uncomfortable about it, they can stay home without penalty. … I’m not going to forcibly close because I have a lot of employees that depend on me for their livelihood. And, so, I’m trying to decide which is the lesser of two evils." —Patrick Donston owner of Absolutely Fish in Clifton, N.J.

To read more about how other pet stores are responding to the COVID-19 pandemic, check out PPN’s coverage here.