By Casey Ryan
The owner of “Tropic Waters Pet Center” greets his customers while his golden retriever Torque, is watching his every move. Torque walks down the aisles of the store, checking on all of the animals.
Jim Reiman has been in Eau Claire for 40 years managing and now owning the store. This is the only self-owned pet store in the area. Reiman employs his daughter, Carlee Bowden who is a manager of the store. The store offers different types of pet food, pet supplies and animals.
“Our animals are what set us apart from everyone else,” Reiman said. “But with that comes a lot of care and lot of responsibility.”
Children are often guests of the store walking around with their faces pressed against the glass tanks to see lizards and snakes. Tropic Waters Pet Center also has exotic animals, such as stingrays, axolotl and many reptiles and amphibians.
“We aren’t really able to focus in on just fish or just small animals,” Reiman said. “We would never survive, these places in the Twin Cities are able to do that because they have a larger market than we do in Eau Claire.”
Reiman said he got into the aquatic business by accident. He said it was due to his mother and his friend he met in college.
“I started doing deliveries for bulk purchases for my friend that he would make,” Reiman said. “He trusted me with his inventory to go to these other stores and I would deliver tanks and gravel, that’s how I got into the aquatic and pet business.”
Reiman said his mother owned a ranch and he would enjoy looking for animals to bring home. He said his mother was his main influencer in his life for his passion for aquatics and animals.
“I brought every animal I could find home when I was little,” Reiman said. “One day I walked into a store that my friend owned and he had a sign that said, ‘Manager needed in Owatonna, Minnesota,’ and I told him that I could help him out for six months until I needed to go back to college.”
Reiman said after he helped at the store he was hooked. He knew that he wanted to do something with animals after college. Reiman also said he enjoys working at the store with his daughter too because he gets to do what he loves and spend time with her.
Bowden said she enjoys working with her dad and is unsure at this time if she will take over the store when her father retires.
“He is the easiest going, nicest guy you will ever meet,” Bowden said. “It contributes to how he handles people really well and can work in the retail business.”
The pair are busy, having to answer phones that are ringing off the hook, jumping up to answer customer questions and managing the animals that are walking around the store.
“We get along, I think it’s really rare we don’t argue, we will have little fights but you have that with anyone you work with,” Bowden said.
Bowden said she likes the variety that the job offers. They have multiple employees at Tropic Waters Pet Center.
Melissa Brown is employed at the store. She said she enjoys the variety and customer interaction on a daily basis.
“It’s nice to see all the variety that comes through,” Brown said. “I like interacting with customers and helping them find the things they need.”
Bowden also agreed. She said she enjoys helping people and caring for the animals. Reiman said he would like Bowden to take over the store. He said she is great with customers and enjoys managing the store currently.
“This store has roots that go back 50 years in Eau Claire, with PetSmart and PetCo, they used to not exist and so I would like to see this continue.”
Bowden said she hopes the small businesses can still make it. She said she would not want to sit at a desk 24/7. She enjoys her active job even though it’s labor intensive.
Reiman says retail changes so fast and he never knows what is around the corner. Bowden agreed, that the small business retail world is difficult but they said they enjoy what they do and don’t plan to stop anytime soon.