Shops sea creatures lure customers
Nicole Hall, 28, and Dan Hall, 32, came from Chicago to look for some new fish and supplies at Living Sea Aquarium in Park Ridge. They have purchased most of their fish and supplies for their two tanks, one fresh water, one salt water, at Living Sea Aquarium. | Tina Harle~Sun-Times Media
Updated: December 2, 2012 6:12AM
PARK RIDGE — Living Sea Aquarium in Park Ridge has a unique greeter stationed by its doors, much to the delight of visiting children.
Sharing a tank with a tarpon and horn shark is Speedy, a friendly puffer fish from the Florida Keys on the lookout for a shrimp snack.
“People come in because they hear we have sharks but after seeing Speedy, lion fish and things like that, all of sudden sharks aren’t the big attraction,” said Mike Sergey, owner of the 13,000-square-foot aquarium shop at 811 W Devon Ave.
When frightened Speedy inflates to the size of a beach ball. Yet that rarely happens, Sergey said, because the pet-like fish, like others in the shop, are comfortable around humans.
“What will start to happen as we feed them more and more is you’ll start to tap on the wall and they come over to take food from your hands,” he said.
Sharing with others the depth and beauty of water creatures is important to Sergey, especially since some kids today interact more with touch screens than nature.
For two decades Living Sea has specialized in supplying freshwater, salt water and reef aquariums with colorful coral and fish from around the world.
On Saturdays and Sundays at 2 p.m. the aquarium store hosts live shark and fish feedings. Kids also sometimes hold some of the creatures, like horseshoe crabs and starfish.
“The only way we’re going to beat virtual reality is with reality and put something right in their hand,” said Sergey. “And all of a sudden everything changes.”
Other forms of interaction don’t involve holding or touching slimy creatures at all. For example, waving a hand over a shy clam causes it to close its rainbow-colored shell.
“I don’t care if you’re 6 or 60, that’s just cool,” Sergey said.
Living Sea also puts on other free family-friendly events that aren’t related to water animals at all.
Hundreds of kids annually line up outside the shop on Halloween to gather candy and catch a glimpse of Sergey’s wife, Jan, disguised as a witch. Free photo shoots with Santa take place amidst the fish tanks in November. The couple has also hosted Easter egg hunts across the street at South Park.
As Sergey sets out to prove, parents don’t have to break the bank to educate kids and have a good time.
“Kids are spending way too much time sitting around at home watching TV or on the computer and some of these great things are going by the wayside,” Sergey said. “Forget buying something or spending money.”
“There are certain things in life that should just be done because they’re fun,” he said.