Jolted by the success of his sisters, Kevin McMenamy decided 25 years ago that maybe it was time for him to stop fishing and start doing something more substantial than working on his tan.
So he shook out the coins from a pickle jar — all $103 worth — and went in search of a spot to open a fish store. Aquatropics, at the corner of Douglas Drive and 36th Avenue N. in Crystal, was born.
Now, after a quarter-century in business and 39 years in all working with fish, McMenamy has decided it’s time to do something else. He’s retiring to pursue new interests and passions, and Aquatropics is clearing out the rest of its inventory.
After selling millions of fish to thousands of customers and training 120 employees over the years, the store likely will close at the end of August.
McMenamy admits to some melancholy. But he also admits that it’s hard to sell fish food — or tanks, or equipment — with the same energy that he had in the early 1990s.
“It’s not boring. But it’s hard to show the enthusiasm and be real when you’ve been doing this for so many years,” said McMenamy, 52, who nonetheless oozes energy and enthusiasm with each word and uses a vice-grip handshake with visitors. “I don’t want to be fake to people.”
He never was that, customers say. Over the years, McMenamy became the go-to guy for all things fish and Aquatropics was the place to go with questions about fish and equipment.
Jay Kalk, a local musician, remembers stopping by the shop when he moved to Minnesota from Hawaii several years ago, at first fishing for a job and then buying fish himself.
“I never found anybody as charismatic as Kevin,” Kalk said. “I wanted to talk to a person who was not just going to throw cold facts at me. And he turned out to be a super personable guy who is very, very knowledgeable.”
McMenamy was no neophyte when he started. As a teenager, he started his fish career working at Aqualand in south Minneapolis.
Fourteen years later — after watching one sister publish a book, another receive a national award for selling the most pagers, and two more enter college — he decided that maybe he should pick up the pace of his life a bit.
He transformed that pickle jar into handshake contracts and enough credit to build the region’s largest supplier of freshwater fish, with species imported from 23 different countries. Along the way, he and his wife, Lisa, raised two kids — Daniel, 18, and Kayla, 19 — and traveled the world for work and pleasure.
It has been a joy, he said, to serve customers who first came into the shop decades ago with parents and grandparents. And he said it’s cool to be recognized by customers while in the Caribbean, Alaska, Hawaii and at the headwaters of the Mississippi River in Itasca State Park.
He admits to having a few guilt trips laid on him by customers who don’t want him to go.
“I love what I do, honest to God,” he said. “This is total entertainment when I’m in here. But after 40 years, I end up going on autopilot a lot. And that’s not fair to my customers.”
Next, he said, he hopes to finish fixing up his lake place and chase a few new business opportunities.
Kalk, who just bought new equipment from Aquatropics, said he understands.
“As a business owner, I get it. He’s ready to move on,” he said. “But he became a fixture in that neighborhood and he’s leaving a bit of a hole. Still, I wish him the best.”