Wet Pets earns national retail honor

Taimuty family’s Wet Pets store tops aquatic retail food chain

August 24, 2014
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Katie Roupe/Observer-Reporter
From left, Wet Pets co-owner Dean Taimuty, store manager Frank Farruggia and co-owner Brian Taimuty head up the staff at their pet store with a third co-owner, Ed Taimuty, who is not pictured. Pet Age magazine recently named Wet Pets the top aquatic retailer in the country. Order a Print
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Katie Roupe/Observer-Reporter
Baby angel fish swim around the tank in the basement area of Wet Pets, where fish are bred. Order a Print
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Katie Roupe/Observer-Reporter
Wet Pets specializes in unique exotic fish, as well as common household types. This Leopoldi freshwater stingray costs more than $1,000. Order a Print
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Katie Roupe/Observer-Reporter
A snowflake eel peeks his head out from behind coral at the Wet Pets store in McMurray. In addition to fish, the store sells reptiles, tarantulas and birds. Order a Print
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Katie Roupe/Observer-Reporter
A pair of discus swim around in a tank at the Wet Pets store in McMurray. Brian Taimuty breeds the discus in-store. Order a Print

Dean Taimuty flashed his trademark smile while recounting the genesis of the family business.

“My brothers went to art school and got job offers in Florida,” said the youngest of Patricia and Ed’s three offspring. “But my mom didn’t want them so far from home. So she asked, ‘What can we do to keep you here?’“

Brian and Ed – fish aficionados since preschool – didn’t flounder for an answer.

“We’ve always wanted a store,” Dean recalled them saying.

They got it in 1992, when the Taimutys launched Wet Pets and Friends in the appropriately named Waterdam Commons. What began as a childhood hobby that morphed into a low-level money-making endeavor had evolved into a pet shop and more.

It enabled the boys to stay and eased their mother’s angst. And 22 years and one Peters Township relocation later, Wet Pets endures.

The store is distinctive for its thousands of fish – freshwater and saltwater, resplendent in color – and the macaw and cockatoo, Bobo and Peaches, who greet customers with a cheery “Hello.”

But there also are snakes, baby sharks, eels, hamsters, tarantulas, dwarf rabbits, guinea pigs and creatures Noah failed to book.

Aquariums, pet supplies and accessories also abound, and if you’d like a fish pond or waterfall, the Taimutys will come out and install.

Wet Pets is doing swimmingly, so well that it was anointed recently the No. 1 aquatic retailer nationally by Pet Age magazine.

Making that national splash was most gratifying to the three siblings, who equally share ownership of an enterprise that soon will celebrate a decade at its second site, 3695 Washington Road.

“Everyone here is pretty excited,” said Dean, overseer of business operations. “We had won a tri-state award, but not national, which is pretty impressive.”

This honor is a testament to a successful family business, but in this instance, “family” extends beyond the Taimuty clan. There are 19 employees, 10 full time, all with seven-plus years at Wet Pets. Frank Farruggia of Canonsburg, the manager, has been there 17 years.

Brian, Ed Jr. and Dean are fixtures, of course, along with their parents.

“Our mom has been here from the beginning,” said Dean, 39. “She does payroll. She’s the backbone, she makes the wheels turn.”

The company gets its money’s worth out of Ed Sr., who gives a generous number of hours as a volunteer. His guidance is flawless, though. He is a fish expert who provided the impetus for Wet Pets many years ago.

While growing up in McKeesport, Ed Sr. developed a passion for fish that never diminished. He and Patricia married, then raised three sons and thousands of fish in their Peters home. The boys likewise picked up dad’s hobby.

“Our whole basement turned into fish tanks and birds,” Patricia said, largely but not entirely with mock annoyance.

Her husband and sons had more than 120 tanks there, primarily because they were turning their avocation into a vocation. They were breeding and raising fish, and selling thousands each week to Pittsburgh area retailers.

The store followed later. Ed Jr., now 47, and Brian, nearly 46, were in their 20s and working in the art industry when they were offered top jobs.

“We graduated in the top two (from Art Institute of Pittsburgh) and were offered jobs with Hallmark and Disney,” Brian said. “Mom didn’t want us to leave.”

That was when they launched Wet Pets, with Brian, Ed Jr. and Patricia – accompanied by baby Bobo – running the business the first 18 months or so. Ed Sr. joined them several years later, after their Waterdam Commons shop expanded to 2,400 square feet – which was still cramped.

“Dad got bored in retirement and started working here,” Dean said of his father, an advertising illustrator at Black Box Corp. until 1998.

After securing a master’s in business administration at Chatham University, Dean joined the other Taimutys in 2003. They would move about a year later, to Washington Road next to McDonald’s. The family purchased property owned by Lee’s Lawn & Garden and occupied previously by Boehm Landscaping. They leveled the building and put up their own structure.

The new digs were much roomier, and got even bigger when an addition about five years ago gave Wet Pets about 11,000 square feet.

Fish fans entering can exchange pleasantries with the birds, then stroll back to the saltwater varieties to the right, freshwater to the left. Baby sharks dart fluidly in a couple of tanks.

Other pet varieties are housed separately from their aquatic brethren. A hairy tarantula has his own space, as most other denizens of the shop undoubtedly prefer.

A pond full of strikingly colorful koi is in the greenhouse in the back, along with waterfalls and other aquatic displays.

Brian Taimuty said Tuesday that he recently built a pond for Brett Keisel, who at that moment was a former Steelers defensive lineman. He signed a one-year contract with the black and gold later that day.

“He’s enormous. I’m 6-2 and I look like a little boy next to him,” Brian said, displaying a cell phone photo that validates that analogy.

Wet Pets’ basement is used for storage and the eight systems that operate the aquariums on the floor above. This area underscores the amount of electricity and water needed to keep things going.

Those aren’t the only energy forms on display inside the store. The Taimutys expel a lot of energy themselves, and have been rewarded for it.

“This is a family business,” Dean said. “We’re here every day, actually doing it. That’s a big reason why we’re successful after 22 years.”

Wet Pets is open 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. Monday through Friday; 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday; and noon to 5 p.m. Sunday. Contact them at 724-942-4442 or wetpetsandfriends.com.

Rick Shrum joined the Observer-Reporter as a reporter in 2012, after serving as a section editor, sports reporter and copy editor at the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. Rick has won seven individual writing awards, including two Golden Quills.

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