The Fish Tank Turns 50 as Aquaculture Continues to Grow
For 50 years, Daytona Beach’s oldest aquarium store has been helping people turn hobby into passion.
Founded in 1972, The Fish Tank is a well-known locale for those who are both seasoned and new to the world of aquaculture.
Brad Lewis, who started at the store as an employee, bought The Fish Tank from founder Richard Pence 11 years ago. Lewis has come a long way from his early 20s when he didn’t quite know what he wanted to do with his life.
“I didn’t take the typical high school to college route,” Lewis said. But after backpacking through Europe and trying to figure it out, he found himself in a marine biology class at Daytona State College—and that changed everything. As part of a project, Lewis worked at a tilapia farm and started to learn more about what would become his future. He started working at the Volusia County Science Center as an assistant aquarist. He also managed another aquarium store. Lewis had found his calling and what he knew could be a lifelong career.
“I’ve been to a lot of businesses in my life, and I can tell you that every business has some sort of an aquarium in it,” he said. “I knew this was a sustainable business. People love aquariums because it’s like you’re looking at a whole other world inside of a little tank.”
Since Lewis took the reins of The Fish Tank, the company has expanded to include service, while maintaining its original purpose—selling fish and helping those who want to start a new hobby. In addition to selling fresh and saltwater fish and corals, The Fish Tank offers aquarium maintenance, installation and water delivery.
“Rich (Pence) did this for a long time—a lot longer than someone who was just doing it as a hobby—and he did a wonderful job with it,” Lewis said. “But he wasn’t really into the technology. I think that’s what’s changed the most since I bought the business. The technology has really evolved and became a part of aquaculture—everything from pumps and filters to incandescent bulbs.”
Customers who visit The Fish Tank can buy fish ranging from $2.99 to $699. They import fish from all over the globe, with a large portion of their freshwater fish coming from local waters. The Fish Tank relies on local government laws to safely import their products.
Nearly one in eight American households has fish as pets. According to the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services (FDACS), Florida is the No. 1 producer of aquarium fish and aquatic plants in the U.S. Aquarium fish account for more than 44% of Florida’s total aquaculture sales, representing more than $33 million.
For Lewis and many of the members of his 10-person staff, The Fish Tank is about so much more than just selling fish. Store manager Tim Durst is especially passionate about the educational part of his job. Durst has more than 20 years of aquarium experience, as well as more than 10 years with the Marine Science Center under his belt.
“I really love the opportunity to help people learn more and get into aquaculture,” he said. “This isn’t just about putting fish in a bowl.”
Business at The Fish Tank has continued to grow, partly, Lewis believes, because his staff is focused on helping people to feel confident in their hobby. When customers walk into the nearly 4,000-square-foot shop in the Holly Hill Plaza, whether to purchase their first fish or their hundredth, Lewis and team are there to assist.
“Fish tanks are a wonderful hobby to have. I remember one of my first saltwater tanks. After I got it set up, I stared at it for hours. But I made a lot of mistakes,” Lewis said. “I love seeing people first get into the hobby and helping them to have more success than I did.”
Lewis has a 5-year-old at home, so many of his aquariums have been replaced by his son’s toys.
“I really hope when he gets older and the toys go away, we can go and pick out a fish and get him started, too.”