To most of you, the twin cites of Duluth, Minn., and Superior, Wis., are on the outskirts of civilization. Not surprising given our location, being less than three hours from the coldest spot in the US (International Falls, Minn.) and about the same distance from Canada in a few directions. While Sarah Palin might keep her watchful eyes on the Russians, up here we have our eyes on our Canadian neighbors! With 80-plus inches of snow here in the “Northland” as they call it on the news, it’s no surprise that we’re not quite a burgeoning metropolis.
Still, we held out hope that Cosmic Aquatics, a new LFS that opened its doors in December 2009, could make it in the Twin Ports region of Duluth and Superior. With four additional stores in the area also offering some basic level of aquarium products and livestock to roughly 100,000 people, Cosmic was the only saltwater specialist and the only place truly modern in its approach. While Cosmic probably wouldn’t have made Jake Adam’s shortlist for “must see fish shops,” it was certainly a better example of the marine aquarium hobby here in our local market. Cosmic even caught the attention of local and regional news, getting relatively extended news coverage that would be unheard of in any normal metro market.
You could argue that Morgan Gonia even had the foresight to realize that this might be a small market for marines, branching out to reach national customers through an online store. Coral Farm, online vendor, and small LFS all wrapped up into one business.
Perhaps simply a sign of the times and continuing economic uncertainty, we’re sad to see a LFS move out of the area in search of warmer waters (and better local customer opportunities) 1,300 miles to the southeast. Admittedly, with the almost “timeless” mantra of “support your LFS,” here in the Northland that proved difficult since bread and butter offerings seldom cater to the long-term established, advanced hobbyists in the area who would’ve liked to support his shop more than they could.
Could Cosmic’s move be a sign of a continuing shift in the retail aquarium industry, with more outlying areas serviced by lessor vendors or even the ultimate shift to exclusively online shopping? That certainly seems to be the case, at least in our local market. Still, the online field is crowded too, considering that even an LFS poised to capture online business is now off to a more densely populated region in search of higher brick-and-mortar and service clients.
I’m not saying the days of the Mom & Pop fish shop are over, but it certainly does seem that their numbers are dwindling. Ironic that while most endangered species are pushed out of their habitats by urban development, it might be these same man-made environments that offer the last hope for refuge for the Mom & Pop LFS. Out here on the “frontier” we’ll have to rely on FedEx now more than ever unless someone else sees an opportunity to fill the void left by Cosmic’s depature.
We wish Morgan and Cosmic Aquatics a safe migration. It sounds like Morgan will be leaving the Twin Ports region at the end of May 2011 — hopefully this proves a smart business decision timing wise, helping Cosmic Aquatics reestablish itself in Virginia Beach, Va., for the forthcoming fall “busy” season as people return to the indoors and start looking at their tanks.