Waukegan, IL: The animals and the birds in The Pet Shop were wonderful, but I really liked the tropical fish. Before there were “all glass” aquariums or even fancier Acrylic aquariums, the normal aquarium had a metal frame and the glass sides were set with a gooey black cement. The bottom was usually black slate, not glass.

She and her husband started by going around Chicago buying tropical fish so that they could raise them. The Pet Shop in Waukegan was opened on December 1, 1952. This was a big job, given the fact that you could not easily fly fish from around the world to stock the pet shops of the United States. Therefore, Aunt Vera had to master the art of raising fish when she started her business. That is not an easy task and it was probably even harder back then. The reality was that she wasn’t just the owner. She was the advertising manager, head accountant, buyer, cashier and caretaker of the animals. And she had to help her customers do the right things and pick pets that were right for them. She didn’t want her pets to be harmed because people lost interest or didn’t understand the care requirements for the pet they purchased.

Please Do Not Tap On Aquaria Glass

Human nature hasn’t changed much since the 1950’s. Children and adults like to tap on the glass of an aquarium, although that really isn’t good, as it frightens the fish. Every aquarium in the Pet Shop had a little sticker that said, “Please do not tap on aquaria glass.” You can see those on the picture of her aquariums. The other picture, of my aunt, is with her special Great Dane. I still remember the dog’s name: Tish. Tish was a giant when I was a little boy.

Aunt Vera with Tish, 1959 in The Pet Shop

Aunt Vera clearly was a hard and creative worker. As I think about the fact that she didn’t have a computer to help her manage her business, I can only imagine how labor-intensive everything was.