“The most exotic saltwater fish in the store, is also probably one of the smallest. It’s the spotted jawfish,” said Mike Knight, pointing to a small fish with a two-toned boxy (yellow and purple) with electric blue spots. Knight said the fish hails from the Baja region of California, and as a protected species, only a few are harvested and available on the open market every year.
Knight’s detailed knowledge about the spotted jawfish is no fluke. The Marathon Pet Center owner spent decades in the pet store and veterinary supply business before opening up a shop in the Middle Keys.
“I’ve been vacationing in Marathon for years,” he said, adding that his job managing one of the largest marine supply in Tampa was coming to an end at the perfect time. “This just made sense.”
Fish are a specialty at the Marathon Pet Center, and at least half the store’s footprint is allocated to bubbling tanks. It sells everything from the simplest, freshwater betas and glowfish (genetically engineered danios and tetras in fluorescent colors) to coral fragments and three types of live rock. Knight said the specimens come from an approved dealer in Plant City, Florida.
“The zoanthids are very popular. These tiny pieces grow very quickly,” he said. Prices range from $10 for a small piece to larger colonies for up to $50.
Marathon Pet Center also has freshwater aquarium plants for sale. The added greenery not only maintains tank health, but it looks pretty too. There’s also a wide selection of tanks ranging from 5 to 125 gallons costing $20 to $1,000. With his fresh and saltwater tank expertise, Knight also consults with tank owners.
“Their success is our success,” he said.
Another big seller at the pet shop is the specialty dog food. Knight said the biggest seller by far is the Blue Buffalo followed by Nutro and Earthborn brands. Pet owners gravitate to the brands because they are carefully formulated to promote dog health with real ingredients like chicken and oatmeal and no soy, wheat or corn.
Birdcages and bird food, leashes, toys, treats and tank supplies occupy the rest of the store’s shelves.
“The biggest difference our customers will notice is the product selection. There are many items available here that can’t be found anywhere else in the Keys,” Knight said, adding the prices are also competitive with the internet.
Marathon Pet Center is located at 107th Street on U.S.1, next to Subway. The telephone number is 305-440-3748. The shop is open Monday through Friday from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m., Saturday from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. and Sunday from noon to 5 p.m.