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King George couple is hooked on fish

January 18, 2013 12:10 am

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John Hudson and Lisa Conroy breed and sell African cichlids (above) and other tropical fish at their King George store.

A KING GEORGE County couple has turned a hobby into a new business that's going, well, swimmingly.

John Hudson and Lisa Conroy breed African cichlids and sell them and a South American variety of the tropical fish at KGTropicals in the town of King George.

"They are the most popular freshwater fish [for aquariums]," said Hudson. "They display colors that will rival saltwater fish. Plus, there's a huge variety of them, so you can constantly add new ones."

Customers who walk into their recently opened shop at 9254 Kings Highway are usually stopped in their tracks by the two huge tanks on either side of the store, he said. Swimming in one are brightly patterned African cichlids, which can grow up to 6 inches in length. The other contains several of the larger South American red devils.

"People usually go to see the red ones because they have a cute face," Hudson said. "They look friendly, but the males can be aggressive."

KGTropicals also has rows of racks holding smaller aquariums that contain about 150 different varieties of cichlids. Hudson and Conroy breed 25 of them, and get the rest from other suppliers. One who sells them angelfish, a member of the cichlid family, also lives in King George.

"Our preference is to buy from local breeders, but there aren't many in this area," Hudson said.

A lifelong fan of fishkeeping, he got his wife interested in the popular hobby several years ago. At first, they went for large tropical fish such as the arowana, which typically grows to around 2 to 3 feet in captivity. She bought a small one to go in his 125-gallon tank in 2010, but his larger one wasn't happy about having company.

"I put it in the tank with his, and within two hours we were back at PetSmart buying a 55-gallon tank because his was beating up on mine," Conroy said.

Soon the couple was buying more aquariums on Craigslist, and wound up with 25 to 30 in their basement. When they outgrew that space, they moved the tanks to their two-car garage.

Hudson and Conroy preferred large fish over the smaller, pretty ones until the day they had an empty tank. They stocked it with peacock cichlids that were on sale at the pet store.

The couple started to fall in love with the peacocks, whose brilliant blues, reds and yellows make them among the most beautiful of the species. Then he discovered about 40 peacock cichlid fry hiding behind a rock during a routine cleaning of the tank.

"We just fell in love with them," Conroy said. "There's nothing like baby fish. They're so adorable and cute. But if you don't catch them in time, the other fish will catch them and eat them."

The couple's focus shifted from collecting large fish to breeding cichlids. They began selling their fish out of their garage and online at kgtropicals.com. They were considering opening a store when Conroy spotted a "for rent" sign on the window of Bumper to Bumper Auto Parts, which was next to Green Acres Nursery.

"We didn't plan on doing a store this soon, but it was a good opportunity," she said.

Currently, KGTropicals is a part-time business for the couple, who are in their 30s. Hudson is a contractor for Guardsman, a furniture insurance company, and Conroy schedules his appointments. Their five children help out with feeding the fish and cleaning the tanks.

KGTropicals sells fish, some fish food and some chemicals for fish tanks. It is open only on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays right now, but will likely be open six days a week beginning this summer. Hudson already has created an African Cichlid breeder channel on YouTube that covers the basics of caring for the fish.

"We're starting from scratch and using our own money," he said. "In time, we plan on selling tanks, lights and all the things you need. We're starting small, but we plan to expand."

Cathy Jett: 540/374-5407
Email: cjett@freelancestar.com





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