The Record-Review – The official newspaper of Bedford and Pound Ridge, New York


January 28, 2011

Something fishy found at Life Aquatic


Randy Jahier happily goes to work each day in his New Canaan store, Life Aquatic.



It was an “aha!” moment. I was alone, driving to Boston to pick up my daughter at school. I was dreaming by myself, thinking about my life. Linda, my wife, was preparing to go back to work. College for both our kids was paid for, and I hated my job. I had just gotten my first fish tank six months before. Suddenly I was excited. I realized I could make a change and actually be happy doing it. That’s when it started.”

Fast-forward three years to December 2010. Better than a dream, everything has come true for Randy Jahier, 51. His new saltwater fish and reef store, Life Aquatic, is open in New Canaan, and this guy is like a little kid in a candy store.

“Look at this fish,” he says, motioning me over. I see a small grayish fish poking its head out of a clumpy mound of sand. “It built this whole mound of rocks and sand overnight by carrying the material in its mouth with probably 500 trips to the other side of the tank to get each mouthful.” Why saltwater fish? “No freshwater fish are as beautiful or offer the same visual satisfaction,” he said.

“Since we opened, when people hear my story, their common refrain is that they wish they could do what I did — start over. But they’re stuck in their job to keep up with the mortgage payments and college tuition. That’s too bad. I love every minute of this. I go to a fun place every day and feel immense satisfaction.”

But it wasn’t like that for 27 years. On the day that he announced his decision to leave his family business manufacturing commercial furniture, he told his partner/brother that he was leaving for a desert island. “My brother thought I was joking, because that’s what we’d jokingly say at the end of most days at our high-stress environment in the Bronx after dealing with a thousand headaches.”

But on that day, a short time after his “aha!” moment, he meant it.

Mr. Jahier is now working on his desert island, which he built himself. He loves coming to work every day, and not just because it’s five minutes from his house in Pound Ridge.  “No more do I have to tell someone to do the same thing three days in a row and then feel like hitting my head against the wall,” he said. “Fortunately, I had a good home life, so it was bearable. I didn’t despise my job, but I wasn’t happy.” Instead of 100 employees, he’s got one employee, Jeremy, who used to work at the Maritime Center. “Jeremy is as crazed about this whole fish business as I am,” he said. “He is so knowledgeable that I learn from him every day.”

According to Mr. Jahier, there’s an obsessed subculture of people who love tropical fish. “I still get caught up looking in the fish tank and getting lost in it. People said I’d start hating fish. No way.

“I always admired people who were experts about any given thing,” he added. “Now I can be that person.”

A scuba diver like many of his fellow enthusiasts, Mr. Jahier got into the hobby in 2003. He had originally figured he’d get his own tank after he retired, as an old guy at 75 years old, he said. “I was going to put a wet bar in our library, then realized that was a perfect spot for a fish tank. I had never even owned a goldfish before. In six months I had a 100 gallon reef tank next to my desk and I was totally obsessed with it. It became my primary escape from my job, like a heroine addiction. Every weekend I’d travel to fish stores and hang out. That’s about when my “aha!” moment happened.”

He calculated the whole process, planning to open his own business in 2010. “Luckily, my father based our family business on the concept of having no debt, and our family lived within our means, so I wasn’t stuck at my job like a lot of people.”

He worked at other fish stores and learned the ropes over a period of a few years. “I can do the business part of this with my eyes closed. It was the other part that I needed to learn.” For a year he commuted daily to a store in Long Island, and also worked part time in Rockland County, doing everything from sales to servicing tanks to sweeping the floors. “I worked far from home because I didn’t think it would be right to turn around and open my own store near where I had worked. I’ve seen other people do that in this business.”

“The money in my family business was great, but it’s true that money doesn’t buy happiness. Sure, I want this new business to pay for itself, but that’s not my main motivation. I want my store to be a fun place to come, so I’ve included touch screen information kiosks, a lounge/library area, a kid section, underwater videos on display, even Goldfish crackers and Swedish Fish snacks! It’s a 90 percent male hobby, so I’m going to be carrying fish décor and jewelry for the wives, in case they get dragged along.”

It’s possible to spend anywhere from a few hundred dollars for a complete do-it-yourself 15 gallon setup to half a million dollars for a 5,000-gallon tank, according to Mr. Jahier. Fish can cost from $10 to thousands. And he is environmentally concerned about the ocean life in his shop. “Until five years ago, all fish and corals were taken directly from the ocean to sell in stores. Now 10 percent of the fish and 50 percent of the corals are farm raised. I grow my own corals. If a certain kind of fish is currently tank bred, I won’t buy the wild-caught fish. It’s more expensive, but it’s the right thing to do and the price will eventually even out. Besides, tank-bred fish are healthier and then you know the age, which is better for the consumer, so you don’t buy a fish that dies of old age when you get it home. This kind of store also educates people about the ocean. Unless you scuba dive, you don’t know the ocean’s beauty and the threats to it. It needs to be respected and protected.

“I want people to come and hang out and fall in love with all this like I did. Other stores are not my competition. They just make money. Me, I’ll create successful hobbyists.”

Life Aquatic is located at 9 South Avenue in New Canaan. Hours are Tuesday through Friday from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m., Saturdays and Sundays from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.

Read more local coverage of your hometown in this week’s issue of the The Record-Review. Newsstand copies are available at several locations listed above, or subscribe today for convenient home delivery.


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