By Hannah Grover
The Daily Times
FARMINGTON In January 1964, 19-year-old Joy Sutton opened House of Pets.
Back then, the store sold animals ranging from monkeys and snakes to hamsters and fish. Nearly 50 years later, Sutton still sells pets out of the small turquoise shop on Apache Street, across from Tibbetts Middle School.
With time, the monkeys and snakes disappeared, and fish became the focus. A book and gift store was added.
One thing has remained the same: Sutton still focuses on selling quality pets.
She said she doesn't try to compete with the large chain stores; she offers the best price she can. She also tries to ensure the pets she sells are healthy. While she orders a hundred Betta fish at a time, many are never sold.
Recently, she looked at one of the dark blue Bettas sitting at the front of the tank, slightly on its side.
"He shouldn't be like that," she said, adding it might have swim bladder and that she would move it to back room with other not-so-healthy Bettas.
In the back of the shop are a series of tanks filled with baby angelfish, each raised by Sutton. Some are as small as the tip of a pencil and others are the size of a quarter.
Sutton starts by selecting breeder fish. During breeding season, angelfish will produce between 200 and 400 eggs a day. Sutton places the eggs in an incubator, using a special dye to keep the fungus down. After hatching, the fish sit on the bottom of the tank, and, after they start swimming, Sutton waits a couple of days before moving the babies to a larger tank. Every time she has a new breeder pair, Sutton said she watches to see if the babies are the type she'd want to sell. If they aren't, she washes the eggs away.
Sutton is currently waiting for a zebra-laced male angelfish with pearl scales and a blue dorsal fin to be ready to breed. Experience has taught her not to expect spectacular offspring. Once, she had an "awesome" male angelfish that wouldn't take to the females. Eventually, she realized the fish was more interested in other males.
In addition to fish, Sutton also breeds mice and hamsters. She once sold rats as snake food, but stopped after she said she realized how human-like the rodents are. Sutton said she saw how the rats cared for each other. The father would wrap his babies underneath his foreleg. The babies would play with him by pulling on his tail and ears.
While she still occasionally sells rats, it's not as snake food.
In the back of the store, Jack, a rat that was nearly became food for a python, curls up in his cage. Sutton said Jack will never leave House of Pets.
And neither will the breeders. They get to retire at House of Pets as a thank you for their service.
The book and gift shop section of the store is called Crystal Corner. Located at the front of the store, the shop carries a wide variety of objects, from books to crystals. To stock the book and pet stores, Sutton often goes to trade shows.
"You won't find our stuff in multiples anywhere else in town," she said.
Sutton also prides herself on having a basic knowledge of everything she sells. She takes the time to learn about the objects because, she said, you can't sell to customers without knowing about the product.
To make her point, she took a gong out of a corner and struck it, allowing the sound to echo through the shop. Crystal Corner sells unusual instruments, including gongs, Tibetan and crystals bowls.
Another of Crystal Corner's specialities is boxes, Sutton said, pointing to a display case of small and large boxes on a counter. Some of the jeweled boxes are so small only a stud earring could fit inside, she said. A selection of necklaces hangs above the cash register, next to the wind chimes.
"If you can't find something you like here, you're not looking hard enough," Sutton said.