Aquatic life find friend in “The Fish Lady”

Becky Burress shares joy of aquarium ownership with teaching,caring

By Kaylin Schatzer

Over the years, Becky Burress has acquired an interesting nickname related to her favorite hobby. Lovingly dubbed "The Fish Lady," Burress makes it her mission to help educate aquarium enthusiasts about what is healthiest for their pets.

“I love to teach,” Burress said. “There are 110 ways to do things, but I know what has worked best for me. I can explain what makes aquariums better and why.”

In June, Burress opened a brick and mortar aquarium store, Becky’s Aquarium Works, 1501 Iowa Ave., Joplin. While she does consider herself a new face to the retail scene, she has been consulting on, setting up and maintaining residential and commercial aquariums for the last two decades.

Burress’ hobby started in 1985 with a two-gallon fish tank in her kitchen.  She quickly graduated to three tanks of her own but never imagined starting a business until her friend Dr. Robert Herron hired her to help move his home tank into his dental office in Columbus, Kan. That 130 gallon tank is still one that Burress maintains.

When she first opened what she calls her “fishy business,” Burress was working at St. Johns (now Mercy) Hospital cooking for the daycare children. As the fish business gained more clients she began to cut down hours at the hospital until eventually she started working it full time.

Currently, Burress, along with two full-time consultants and a few part-time helpers, have been able to service almost 100 tanks in Kansas, Missouri and Oklahoma. She and her team are willing to drive roughly an hour out from their home base in Joplin and, in the past, have even taught lessons in Arkansas.

Educating others and helping them get their aquariums functioning properly is what motivates Burress to continue to grow her business. Part of that growth has been her new location, which allows her the opportunity to teach and recommend the best products.

“Anything I sell here I wanted to be able to show a client how it runs, why it runs the way it does and what it does for the tank,” she said.

From food to refugium (an appendage to a marine, brackish, or freshwater fish tank that shares the same water supply) Burress makes a point to keep her store stocked with natural options that are healthy for the fish and easy to use for her customers. One specific example of a natural product the store carries is wood and Texas holey rock harvested by Dan Rider from Texas. The wood and rock provide the fish with many hiding places and provides nutrients to some specific species.

It isn’t just aquarium merchandise that the store has available for purchase. Many different varieties of saltwater, freshwater and brackish water fish are also offered to those looking to start or grow their aquariums. Coral, shrimp and snails can also be found waiting for their forever homes.

Burress’ expertise gives her a leg up when trying to find the right fish for those looking to start or grow their hobby in a healthy way.

“I love the fish and making it healthy for them,” she said. “I do have a lot of history behind me and I can tell you every tank is different no matter how identically you set it up.”

The process of acclimating a fish starts at the store and Burress has been using her retail location to make little changes which benefit the fish in the long run. One recent change is her effort to eliminate plastic bags for transport. Plastic bags, according to Burress cause a large amount of stress for the creature. Instead she tries to recycle wide mouth containers, such as minnow buckets, to send fish home with customers. If the container is returned she discounts the customer’s next food purchase by a dollar.

To Burress, it is the little things that make a difference to her "critters" and, whether it is through consulting or retail, being able to share the joys of teaching about fish and making other people’s aquariums work is worth every moment.

“Whenever I started this I laughingly said, ‘If you’ve got an aquarium and you want it to work come to me. That’s why it’s called Becky’s Aquarium Works. I’ll take your aquarium and make it work.’”


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