Greg Sowers, owner of Fintastic off of Ayrsley Town Boulevard, stands in front of an aquarium where three sharks call home. This tank, along with many others, help make up Fintastic’s 18,000 gallons of aquatic life. (Photo: Glenn H. Burkins for Qcitymetro.com)
Editor’s Note: Adventures in the Qcity is a series that spotlights local destinations and is sponsored by the Charlotte Area Transit System (CATS). Learn about other destinations on our special page.
When customers walk through the door at Fintastic, they are often heard saying “Wow!”
That’s because they’ve just stepped into an 11,000-square-foot aquarium superstore that sells more than 18,000 fish and other aquatic animals. Or maybe it’s the 1,800-gallon tank that holds three live sharks.
Whatever the reason, owner Greg Sowers said his two-story shop in south Charlotte has become a “destination-type place.”
“It is known for its depth and breadth,” he said.
To enter Fintastic is to enter an aquarium lover’s delight.
Some 425 fresh and saltwater tanks hold fish and corals from nearly every corners of the globe — tangs from the Indian Ocean, freshwater cichlids bred in Florida and coral from the coast of Australia. Outside, Japanese carp swim in a small koi pond.
Sowers said he first became interested in fish when his parents gave him an aquarium at age six. He said he has had one ever since.
After visiting other states and seeing other aquarium shops, Sowers said he wanted to bring to Charlotte what he saw elsewhere – a complete fish store selling fresh water tanks as well as saltwater equipment.
Fintastic carries a variety of fish and aquatic life. On the upper hand, workers are sent to businesses to install large, custom-designed tanks.
Some of the store’s cheaper fish cost from $3 to $75. Others, such as striped zebra pleco, can cost from $300 to $400. Special-ordered koi, with strong red-and-white colors, can cost thousands of dollars.
Sowers opened his first Fintastic store on South Boulevard 21 years ago. He moved to his current location nine years ago at Ayrsley Town Shopping Center, just off South Tryon Street near the Interstate 485 beltway.
On a recent Monday, the store was abuzz with activity. Workers scurried from tank to tank, scrubbing green algae and feeding the scaly inhabitants. A mother with two small children stopped by to fish gaze.
With more than 18,000 gallons of water coursing through various tanks, accidents are bound to happen. A bad day, Sowers said, begins when he opens the door and finds water on the floor. That typically means an employee failed to properly close a valve or shut off a pump.
Then there are diseases and parasites. One aggressive parasite — chilodonella – can wreak havoc on a community of fish, especially when hundreds of tanks are connected through a common filtration system.
“A fish can be eating and 24 hours later its insides are complete jelly,” said Sowers of chilodonella.
He recalled one outbreak that killed $20,000 of merchandise in a few short days.
He described the parasite as “wicked, wicked, wicked.”
Every Sunday at 4 p.m., the store invites families to come in and feed the sharks — a three-foot blacktip and two four-foot bamboo sharks — at a cost of $3.
Despite changes in aquarium technology and the way aquatic animals are maintained, Sowers’s love of fish remains the same. He also said he never imagined that Fintastic would be what it has become. He calls it Charlotte’s “free public aquarium.”
“This place has grown bigger and reached further than I anticipated,” he said. “We’ve built an array of fish that really wow people.”
GETTING THERE: Fintastic is at 2135 Ayrsley Town Blvd., Suite C. From the uptown Transit Center, take the LYNX Blue Line in the outbound direction. Get off at Arwood Station and take bus 56. Get off at the corner of Tryon Street and Bethany Brook Lane. Walk southeast for about four minutes on South Tryon Street. The shopping center will be on your left.