Some might say Kevin Will is returning to his roots.
He is going back to the work that he loved and the animals he cared for while in high school in the early 1970s.
“My very first job was at a pet shop in my home town of Fond du Lac,” Will said. “I managed a fish department for Copps.”
Before there were Copps food centers, there were Copps department stores throughout Wisconsin.
“In those days, Copps actually rented floor space to other businesses,” Will recalled. “I was 17 years old and I approached the manager about space for a pet shop. Instead, they decided to hire me as the manager. I did all the ordering and pricing, the scheduling for staff, and I sold tropical fish for Copps for five years.”
Will estimated that his department had $87,000 in sales a year.
“That was pretty good for a teenager running 800 square feet of retail space in the ’70s,” Will said.
In the 1970s and early 1980s, Will ran his own pet store, until he moved to Waupaca to work with the mental health unit of the Waupaca County Department of Health and Human Services.
In 1984, Will married Mary Robbins, who serves as the county clerk. The couple live in Farmington.
In 2006, Will began working part time as a social worker at the Wisconsin Veterans Home in King. He described his work there as less stressful.
Will looks around his new store, The Corner Pet Shop, located at North Main and Granite streets in downtown Waupaca. He notes that his store is about the same size as the fish department he ran as a teenager.
“Running a pet shop is a lot like working on a dairy farm,” Will said. “The job requires constantly feeding all the animals and cleaning all the tanks and cages. It’s seven days a week, 365 days a year.”
What draws him to the pet shop business are the people.
“I enjoy working with people who are invested in the hobby of raising fish,” Will said. “If I provide excellent product and service, my customers will be happy, and we will have positive interactions.”
Will said he expects most of his business to occur during the winter, when people are inside and looking for hobbies.
“Watching fish can be very relaxing,” Will said. “There are lots of colors and lots of different kinds of behavior to watch for.”
There are now more than 40 varieties of fresh water tropical fish at the Corner Pet Shop, and Will can tell stories about many of them.
“The archerfish will spit water at an insect to knock it down,” he said, pointing to a triangular-shaped silver fish with black stripes. Male bettas, or Siamese fighting fish, are recognized by their bright colors, long, flowing fins and aggressive behavior. A male betta will fight with its own reflection. Yet, once the female lays the eggs, it is the male betta that seems most “maternal.” The male carries the eggs in his mouth into a bubble nest and protects them from predators and from the female who will eat her own progeny.
The Corner Pet Shop also carries angelfish, neon tetras, African butterfly fish and, of course, goldfish.
Will noted that the aquarium hobby is relatively inexpensive. A 10-gallon tank with a hood, fluorescent fixture, heater and filter costs about $60.
“It has everything you need except the fish and some gravel.” he said, adding that a tank can be stocked with several fish for under $20.
In addition to tropical fish, the shop will carry gerbils, hamsters, guinea pigs and parakeets, as well as pet supplies, live and frozen fish food, and toys and treats for dogs and cats.
The store will be open from noon to 5 p.m. Thursdays and Fridays and from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. Saturday and Sunday.