The owner of the West Hartford Puppy Center and Aquarium plans to change his store to accommodate the arrival of Pepe's Pizza in Elmwood, but says he is very happy about it.
When the big news broke about plans for a Frank Pepe Pizzeria Napoletana to open in Elmwood, many worried that the Puppy Center would be closing, but that is definitely not the case.
"I'm very happy that Pepe's is coming. I think they will be an excellent neighbor and will increase traffic to the shopping center," said Puppy Center owner Ron Brunner. The West Hartford Town Council unanimously approved the Pepe's Pizza application on Tuesday night.
The Puppy Center and Aquarium has been a West Hartford institution since 1966. Brunner has worked there for 26 years and has been the owner for the past 17 years.
Pepe's plans to take over 3,200 square feet of Brunner's space, and he said that although he will probably eliminate some of his product offerings, it will mostly affect the less popular dry goods. "Right now the store is very wide open. We're going to get leaner," he said.
"I'm going to concentrate more on livestock, increase the aquatic department and change around the dog department," Brunner said.
Brunner said that his store already has the largest saltwater section in Connecticut, and he plans to grow that side of the business. He specializes in growing baby corals – farming them from fragments he takes from larger pieces of coral. The "frags," which are kept in a marine environment in reef tanks, are a very popular product and people are really excited about them, Brunner said. "It's what we do and what we're known for," he said.
The Puppy Center and Aquarium also imports fish "literally from all over the world," said Brunner. They receive deliveries of a wide variety of fish several times a week.
The emphasis on the aquarium side of the business will not detract from the other core portion of his business, however. Brunner said the store would continue to sell puppies. "The last thing we'll do is stop selling puppies. It's the foundation of what we do."
Brunner said that Pepe's hopes to begin the construction process soon in anticipation of a July 1 opening, but he is not worried about undergoing a renovation and plans to remain open for the duration. "Since I've owned the store we've remodeled four times. In this case it's a small remodel," Brunner said.
The timing all depends on [Pepe's] progress, said Brunner. "I'm going to walk hand in hand with their momentum."