Aquarium Village Goes With The Flow

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(Photos by Allison Eichler)

Tucked within a shopping strip along Old Country Road in Westbury, Aquarium Village has stood for eight years to provide everything a marine enthusiast could dream of. Richard Bonifazio, who co-owns the store with his wife, Sharon, bought the business out of his strong passion for the aquatic hobby, and he’s been swimming along ever since.

After retiring from his 30-year career as a special education teacher, Bonifazio swung himself into the golf business—an endeavor he pursued for nearly a decade before finding his true passion in the aquarium business.

He initially became hooked on fish when he moved into his own apartment.

“When I was younger and first moved out of my house, a tank was the first thing I put into my apartment,” Bonifazio said. “Before I even had furniture I had a fish tank.”

With fish now in both his workplace and in his home, he joked that, “I work with fish all day and then go home to do it all again.”

But Bonifazio wouldn’t have it any other way. He said one of his favorite things about working in the fish industry is that every day brings something different.

“Every day you can look at something and it’s different. Something new can happen every day. There’s a mystery, a mystique about the industry that’s really, really nice,” he said.
Walking through Bonifazio’s store, one can find corals of every shape, size and color, shrimp, starfish, hermit crabs, and an incredibly wide variety of both saltwater and freshwater fish. The shop will even special order livestock such as sharks and stingrays.

“Saltwater shrimp are really unique,” Bonifazio explained with his arm in a tank of shrimp. “Because they’re cleaners. If you put your hand in the tank it will just go up your hand and eat the dead skin. Most shrimps are scavengers.”

Maybe it’s because of their tank-cleaning ways, but Bonifazio said shrimp are inexplicably popular in the industry right now.

“[Shrimp] seem to be a trend in the hobby right now. There are thousands of varieties of shrimp. People look for those and we call distributors around the world,” he said.

Calling worldwide distributors is not something Aquarium Village will reserve exclusively for shrimp, however. Bonifazio said the shop has about 35 regions around the world where they receive their fish and coral livestock. Locations such as Fiji, Czechoslovakia, the Phillipines, South Africa and Bali are just a few of the places where their aquatic life comes from.

“Luckily I’m an insomniac, because at 2 o’clock in the morning I’m talking to someone in Bali or South Africa,” Bonifazio said. “That’s another thing I like about this business; I get to talk to a lot of these people and experience the same thing with them and they’re a world away.”

Bonifazio said that while maintaining an aquarium can be expensive depending on which fish are swimming in it, some fish cost no more than a couple of dollars, thus making the hobby more accessible.

In fact, accessibility to the hobby is important in that it can make a huge impact on the lives of those who choose to take it up.

“[Having an aquarium] has been scientifically proven to be calming and lower blood pressure,” Bonifazio said. “We’re getting more and more calls from doctor’s offices to install tanks in their waiting rooms. We just did [tank installations in] four different hospitals.”

The store has its own maintenance department to install and service buyers’ aquariums. No outside companies are involved, but when it comes to selling fish, Aquarium Village takes great care to ensure each fish is going to an appropriate home.

“When a person wants a certain type of fish, we feel it’s our duty to question what they’re doing with that fish,” Bonifazio explained. “We talk to our customers. We wouldn’t sell knowing that [the fish isn’t] going to get a proper home.”

A hobby worth having, Bonifazio advised beginners to start slow.

“Too many people like immediate gratification, and in this hobby you can’t,” he said. “The more patient you are with this hobby, the better off you’re going to be.”

For more information, visit in-store at 461 Old Country Rd., Westbury, or visit www.nyaquariumvillage.com.

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