Store manager Anthony Havrilla carefully dipped a clear plastic Petco bag into an aquarium in the aquatic section of the new Soldotna store. After slowly filling the bag with water, Havrilla took the easy route and went for the snail first, leaving the fish chasing to one of his other employees.
He gently scooped the snail up and dropped it into the bag.
“Here you go buddy, to your new home,” he said.
Across the store, Joshua Freel and Bering West, both of Soldotna, walked their German Shepherd, Rottweiler and Beagle mix Persaeus through the treat aisle after grabbing a bag of dog food for the excitable two-year-old dog.
Several other people gathered around the ferret cage, waiting to play with one of the two remaining after several others were adopted during the store’s busy opening weekend.
Wednesday was still fairly busy after what Havrilla said was a banner grand opening.
“Soldotna has welcomed us with open arms,” he said. “It’s awesome.”
Lee Borden snagged one of several red-eared slider turtles to show off their aquarium.
“We got some tortoises but everyone has been buying tortoises,” he said.
In fact, several of the 29 tanks in the aquatic department were empty.
“We’re pretty cleaned out because of our grand opening weekend,” Borden said.
Borden, who has a degree in fisheries biology, was quick to show off his favorite parts of the aquatic department.
“I’ve always liked firefish,” he said, pointing to a small group of the gobis. “They’re just fantastic.”
He said the store would be getting a new shipment of fish on Thursday as well as live coral for saltwater enthusiasts.
While Borden said he hasn’t sold as many saltwater fish, he hoped to get the community excited about the brightly colored fish.
“Most people are intimidated by it. It is a little more work,” he said. “But anyone who has had a freshwater tank for a year or two, they’ve managed to keep freshwater fish alive.(They’re) ready to step up. Most people just don’t think they can make that step into saltwater, but I’m hoping I can get some people into it.”
The 6700 square foot store is a bit smaller then some other stores, but Havrilla said it fit the community size well.
“Getting down the aisles has been a chore for some,” Havrilla said.
He said after the excitement of a new store died down he thought people would find it easier to navigate the store.
While the store does offer birds, small rodents, snakes, fish and spiders it will not offer cats and dogs for adoption.
“Petco doesn’t believe in selling animals of that type,” he said. “We believe in adoption first. As a matter of fact if I had a ferret up for adoption, I would try to sell that animal first then sell somebody a new ferret. Finding good forever homes for our pets is the ideal situation.”
On weekends, however, customers can find cats and dogs available for adoption in a set of cages and kennels near the front door.
Havrilla said the store has teamed up with the Kenai and Soldotna animal shelters as well as Alaska’s Extended Life Animal Sanctuary in Nikiski to provide space for volunteers to try and adopt animals out on the weekend.
Persaeus, busy jumping up on her hind legs barking and boxing with Freel, added to the low din in the store.
Havrilla said it was normal for people to bring their pets in and during the weekend the store had gotten rather noisy with guest pets.
“We had a lot of dogs, a few ferrets. I had somebody bring a 10-foot ball python in,” Havrilla said of the opening weekend. “I had somebody bring a parrot over the weekend. The most surprising was a cat on a leash.”
As the store’s 20 employees settle in, Havrilla said he was glad to have such a warm reception by people on the Peninsula.
“(I’m) real excited about how the community has taken us into their arms,” he said.
Rashah McChesney can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org