PLAINFIELD TOWNSHIP, Mich. — Imagine walking into a store and meeting an iguana, or a group of stingrays in a tank, or a sugar glider.
You don’t need to imagine that at V I Pets Plainfield.
There’s a crab skittering across the floor of a tank of water. There are snakes and other reptiles. Colorful fish. A blue-tongued skink.
But if you’re a little more conventional, parakeets coexist in the same store as a chameleon.
Not every animal there is for sale. The owner and staff just like animals.
Well, “like” doesn’t really describe how they feel.
“Animals have been a passion of mine my entire life,” says owner Jillian Wisner. “I've always been an animal person. I mean, ever since I was a kid.”
How do you get into the world of exotic animals? Wisner worked at a number of pet stores and got hired at V I Pets about six years ago. Then, she says, she decided to buy the place two years ago.
She estimates that her experience added to that of the rest of her staff gives you about 100 years of pet experience you can draw on when you consider owning an exotic pet and the equipment and food you need.
“And when the customer comes in," she says, “it's not just a very quick transaction. We spend time with them. That can be from anywhere from 15 minutes to an hour making sure we're covering all the care for that animal, that they have the proper setup at home -- or if they're purchasing the proper setup here -- and going over every fine detail to make sure that this forever animal they're picking is going home to the proper environment.”
Because of the pandemic, they are willing and able to provide services on the phone or online. “That's actually been really helpful for a lot of people. I mean, we have people that are coming from out of state even, to come here and get what they need.”
When businesses closed early in the pandemic, Wisner had a few scary weeks despite the official designation that pet stores were essential businesses. “I had not only just bought the pet store, but we weren't having a lot of customers coming in,” she remembers. We weren't doing a lot of sales.”
Then something changed. “I would say about a month after the pandemic hit, the support was amazing. People started to realize that our doors were still open, we're still here to support you and your animals’ needs. And the support from the community and the local community has been outstanding.”
Wisner sees that community support as a two-way street. She uses local sources for small animals, for reptiles bred locally, even for coral you place in your fish tank.
“I think that's probably the most important thing is me being a local business owner to support the local people here because without them, this dream of mine would not be possible.”