Monday, July 1, 2013

Local Passion: Gems of Tucson

I love people who are passionate about life, and their quirky little hobbies. People whose bubbly passion spills out of their minds to create local businesses and non-profits where I can visit and soak in some of their zeal, and a bit of their knowledge, and even buy some of their fabulous products or services.

Squire and I decided to set up a planted freshwater fish tank again, now that Lincoln is old enough to enjoy (and almost certainly terrorize) one. We researched local pet stores in the area. We always loved supporting Animal Ark when we lived in Provo, and we wanted to find a local pet/fish store to give our patronage to here in Tucson. After some research we found Arizona Nature Aquatics. We were excited to check it out for ourselves.

When we walked in to the shop, the smell of warm coconut wafted in our noses, and we were stunned by the incredibly beautiful and pristine planted freshwater tanks. After several minutes of gawking, I took a look at a few of the price tags and was relieved to find the prices to be very reasonable. The shop owner came by to give us assistance. 

Arizona Nature Aquatics Fish tank: Image from their website.

 I could tell by the wide eyes behind his black square glasses and the subtle movements in his body language that by my questions, I was indicating to him my lack of expertise or awareness of ethical issues surrounding the keeping of African Dwarf frogs as pets, the proper set-up for a healthy home fish tank, tap water vs. reverse osmosis (RO) water (who knew there was such a thing?), tips for growing live plants on pieces of wood underwater, "snail assassins," and a host of other fish tank topics. I discovered that I could purchase charcoal for my filter in bulk, and not waste more packaging than necessary, and put Malaysian wood in my tank to help soften the water naturally. Despite my obvious lack of expertise - which quite possibly made him not want to sell anything to me! -  he carefully, thoughtfully, gently, and thoroughly answered all my questions. That shop owner has the heart of a teacher. I can't wait to return to that shop again - I would love to have a tank the looks as beautiful and clean with fish as happy and healthy as the ones swimming in the tanks at that awesome little shop. I will post pictures when we add live critters to our tank. :)

This little shop isn’t the only one in Tucson where I’ve felt the owner’s passion spill out in a delightful way.

There is another local non-profit shop with a similar feeling I’ve experienced in the last year – a seed shop called Native Seeds. We bought all our seeds for our garden from this shop. It is, coincidentally on the same road as the ANA, and in the next parking lot over. Native seeds specializes in selling seeds that are not genetically modified, and that are native to the Arizona desert. The shopkeepers give excellent information on when and how to grow the seeds in our extreme environment. When you walk in to their store, it is almost as though you feel the need to hush yourself as you step into the special seed room – the room of potential life, food, and wholesome family work! I caught conversations of one of the store owners talking about planting seeds in the native way (not in a raised soilbed like I am doing. ;) ) Their passion for this stuff is just palpable in the air in a place like that. Their hobbies are aligning with their moral/ethical/spiritual compass in a good conscientious non-profit business – and in the process, everyone wins.

I felt that when we visited the Room of Rugs store in Tucson, when we eat at the local Ethiopian food restaurant in town: Zemam’s, or when I shop at: Another Man’s Treasure – my favorite little thrift shop in town. I felt it when I went to the 4th Avenue Street Fair with my friend, Amanda, several months ago.

I don’t have a problem supporting and enjoying the benefits of big box stores. I was, after all, a Costco employee for a couple of years myself! I’m pretty sure I will always shop at Costco and Target. 

However, there is just something magical you feel in supporting and visiting a business that is still small enough to have an intimate relationship with its creator. It’s different, and refreshing and wonderful to experience. Local shops flavor a town in a personal way, and bring so much joy to me when I visit them. I love to support local businesses whenever I can. Tell me I’m not the only one who feels this way!

Tell me, how do you feel about shopping local? What are your favorite local businesses to support?

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