MARION — Visitors to Home Grown Pets will find python snakes, hedgehogs, bearded dragons, betta fish and parrots among the numerous animals at the new Marion pet store.
As the name suggests, many of the animals are born right in the store. Others are born in Eastern Iowa.
“When we can, we only use local breeders,” said Dustin Bessine, who co-owns the store with his wife, Lisa Lemek. “We also produce a lot ourselves in our Burlington store.”
In 1999, Bessine and Lemek, then in their early 20s, opened Coral Reef in Burlington. They’d intended the store to carry saltwater fish only, but they soon realized that it would not survive if they didn’t expand their offerings to include freshwater fish, reptiles, small animals and birds.
Disappointed in the quality of the animals sourced from big vendors, they started raising their own at the store and seeking out local breeders.
“We know they are being raised in a quality environment according to proper husbandry principles,” Bessine said.
Last year, with a dependable staff in place to run the Burlington store, and their son at school at the University of Iowa, the couple decided to relocate to Marion to open a second store.
“We love the area and this is where we wanted to live,” Bessine said.
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They moved into a former Ace Hardware location on Nov. 11 and were ready to open the store — albeit in only part of the space — by Black Friday. At the same time, they were moving their household, and they lived out of a hotel for two months until they closed on their new home in January.
“We didn’t sleep much,” Lemek said, noting they’ve taken off only three days since Oct. 1, one being Christmas Day.
Since the store opened, the owners have added inventory and are expanding into the rest of the retail space. In addition to animals, the store sells aquariums and supplies, cat and dog food, and pet toys and supplies.
It does not sell dogs or cats, but hosts adoption events for local shelters.
As far as what sets Home Grown Pets apart from big box pet stores, Lemek said their hand-raised animals tend to make better pets. Baby birds are hand-fed so they imprint on humans, and baby mammals are handled regularly as soon as they are old enough so they don’t become biters.
“We’ve been amazed by how many people are excited to see hamsters you can hold,” Bessine said.
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At a Glance
• Owners: Dustin Bessine and Lisa Lemek
• Business: Home Grown Pets
• Address: 999 44th St., Suite 2000, Marion
• Phone: (319) 651-6526
• Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
• Facebook: Facebook.com/HomeGrownPetsIA