(Note; This story was written on November 15, 2023)
When the Fish Bowl opened on the west side of the Oval 41 years ago, the number one movie at the box office was E.T., Michael Jackson topped the charts, and gasoline cost $1.22 a gallon. Indeed, it’s been a long time for the Oval’s oldest business. Sadly, this week, a "Close Out Sale” sign went up in the store’s window.
A lover of fish and small animals since girlhood, Marie Mack fulfilled a lifelong dream when she opened the Fish Bowl in September 1982. With a full assortment of parakeets, finches, fish, hamsters, and guinea pigs — as well as the odd Chilean tarantula or freshwater stingray, the store featured pets as well as such accessories as exotic bird cages, and of course, fish bowls. The business was a family affair. In a 1984 Milford Cabinet photo, three generations are seen helping out at the store, including daughter Suzette and mother Mary Jason. Four years later, they all moved across the Oval to the current two-story location. Through the years, the Fish Bowl was not only the place where countless Milford kids picked out their first pet, but it also functioned as a kind of on-call animal helpline whenever a strange creature was discovered around town. In 2004, a three-foot-long Burmese python was found curled up in a Nashua Street antique shop and Fish Bowl manager Tammy Landry was called in to try to nurse it back to health. On another occasion, in 2001, Landry was summoned to identify a small piranha that had been plucked out of Railroad Pond.
The end of the Fish Bowl is a tough blow for the Oval. Small pet stores — like small toy stores or bookstores or clothing boutiques — have struggled in the 21st century economy. At one time it was Target and PetSmart drawing away customers in the pet realm. More recently, Amazon Prime has been added to a stacked deck. Even as far back as 2006, Mack was concerned about changes in the retail scene: "The internet has lured customers, now you can even order fish online," she told the Cabinet. Nearly 20 years later, those trends have only intensified, and it seems that Union Square, like many small-town centers, is now a viable option to sell only that which cannot be delivered on an Amazon truck.
A Fish Bowl ad from the 1980s.