Aquatic Jewels is new shop in Montecito Village
There’s definitely something fishy about the shop that Dottie Allen opened last month in Upper Montecito Village near the Post Office.
Called Aquatic Jewels, the saltwater aquarium store specializes in live corals and reef safe fish. It also sells aquarium supplies and offers professional aquarium installations and maintenance.
What’s the difference between saltwater and freshwater aquariums?
“Fish in saltwater live longer because they sleep at night. Freshwater fish never sleep. Saltwater fish find a rock or a crevasse in the tank and curl up and go to sleep. A clown fish can live 20 years. I just lost an angel fish that was 12 years old,” Ms. Allen told the News-Press.
The saltwater is processed in the shop by using reverse osmosis filtration with salt added.
Among the aquariums she sells are tanks ranging in size from 4 feet tall and 10 feet long that hold 550 gallons of water to small ones that are 8 inches wide and 12 inches tall and hold 5 gallons of water.
“The most common one is the 4-gallon tank which costs $69.99, and the most common setup costs $2,500, but I have done some for $75,000,” said Ms. Allen. “My saltwater fish, which range in size from 1 inch to 10 inches, are mostly non-aggressive and include tangs, angels, wrasses, eels and rabbit fish.”
If Ms. Allen, an avid scuba diver, sounds especially enthusiastic about the world of fish, it’s because she has been fascinated with them since the age of 10 and had guppies.
“When I was an accountant in Bakersfield, I had a tank in my office. One day I got to thinking, ‘I should do this for a living.’ I liked fish better than doing income taxes,” she said.
In 1989, Ms. Allen came to Santa Barbara to look for a shop location and stopped at the Ark Pet & Supply Store in Carpinteria to ask for advice.
“I ended up buying the store,” said the grandmother of four and great-grandmother of six. “Then, for 12 years, I owned Aquatic Gardens on De la Vina Street, after which I owned Aquatic Village in Ventura with my husband Vern. We sold it in 2010 but kept maintaining the tanks for customers.
“Finally, in 2014, Vern said ‘Let’s go traveling,’ and that’s what we did for four years — Iceland, Greenland, Paris — we saw it all.”
When her husband became ill in Russia in November 2019, the couple returned home. Mr. Allen died in April 2020.
“That was the start of the pandemic, and I began to get calls from former customers — some I hadn’t heard from in 10 years — who needed their aquariums maintained in their offices while they were forced to stay at home. Fortunately, I connected with Mark Amescua, a young man, who continues to help me,” she said.
When Ms. Allen decided to open a shop in Montecito Village, Norman Borgatello, a longtime friend and owner of the shopping complex near the intersection of San Ysidro and East Valley roads in Montecito, said he would save a place for her.
“It took me 11 months to open because I couldn’t get plexiglass for the tanks. All the plexiglass was being used for COVID-19 prevention,” said Ms. Allen, who considers the corals she sells as jewels, hence the name of her new store.
“Having a saltwater aquarium is like bringing the ocean into your home. They are living pictures. I just replaced some bookcases on either side of a fireplace with the tanks and their colorful fish. Doctors love them for their offices because they distract patients from their physical ailments, and they are also popular in retirement homes and hospitals. They are especially good for Alzheimer’s patients, who sit for hours and watch the fish. They are very therapeutic.”