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Pier 701, Exceptional Store/Owner

By James Gasta


I was invited by Kirk Brown to visit his store, Pier 701, and do an interview and photo shoot of his operation.  The following article are the results of the interview.

Nothing fancy here, just healthy fish and corals!

Kirk started his business in April, 1995.  When asked how this developed, He responded, "When I started dating my wife, she had a 30 gallon freshwater tank, always had problems with it."  He then upgraded everything through mail-order stores and in a short time it became their first saltwater aquarium which later grew to a 120-gallon reef.  He began reading everything he could get is hands on regarding marine aquariums and their care.  Shortly after, he began an aquarium service business which he ran out of his home.  Soon, he had ten accounts he was servicing.  Later, he met a fellow marine aquarist and developed a friendship with him.  They talked about how there were no full-blown marine aquarium shops in the area and wondered how a business like this would take off.  His friend’s father-in-law happened to own a store that was vacant and shortly after they opened the business called Reef Encounters.  The name had to be changed later due to a conflict with an on-line store using the same name.  Three months later, his partner who worked at Dow Chemical decided that the business was too much on him since he worked days and helped run the store in the evening.  Kirk agreed to buy out his share, quit his job as a baker and make a living at this.  The store quickly filled with tanks, stands, supplies, etc.  Pier 701 was soon known as “the place to go”.

A 120 Gallon Reef, One of Kirk's many accounts.  Customer's tanks like this one supplied many coral fragments.

Summer months were slow at the shop and another venture was needed to increase income.  Outdoor ponds were taking off at the time and Kirk decided on adding this offering to his business.  The aquarium service part of the business had now expanded to 72 accounts involving numerous hours per day.  Help was hired so Kirk could spend more time setting up another venture…live corals.

At first, many of his corals were fragments from corals that were overgrowing in customer’s tanks and needed to be thinned out.  Six three hundred gallon vats were ordered and put in place.  Three would house live rock, soft and hard corals ready for sale along with crabs, snails and other invertebrates.  The other three would be for fragments in development, both hard and soft, along with a nice variety of clams.  Many of the corals were cut from  large show corals that he could not sell due to high cost, and the softies soon began spreading like weeds in the large vats.  Now they are trimmed on a regular basis and attached to live rock ruble for future sale.  Most of the stoney fragments are placed in “rose holders” that were obtained from a local greenhouse and placed in eggcrate for upright support, others are expoxied to small pieces of live rock.  Under 400- watt halides, growth is rapid.  Water changes are done on a weekly basis to restore trace elements needed for growth.  The only supplements used are two part calcium and alkalinity products and Lugol’s iodine.

Images of the 450 gallon display tank owned by Outdoor Adventures and maintained by Pier 701.  The beautiful cherry hood over this tank houses four 400W metal halide lamps.  Some of the inhabitants include (clockwise from top right): A large bubble coral (Plerogyra sp.), a large Frogspawn (Euphyllia sp.) and a large finger leather (Sinularia sp.)


I did ask him for his opinion on the following subjects.


He feels that the wet/dry systems are the way to go, promoting excellent gas exchange and aeration.  The average customer will buy a 70-90 tank and will soon want to put as many fish as possible in the system.  The wet/dry will handle large bio-loads, and is versatile as it offers a place for skimmers, heaters. Poly Filters and other chemical media.  He never recommends putting skimmers outside the sump due to the risk of overflow and an angry wife!

Multiple UV Units used in fish displays.


UV’s are highly recommended by Kirk.  With higher bio-loads, outbreaks can occur caused by unnoticed  temperature and water parameter shifts and the UV will help immensely in this regard.  He has noted that corals do better with UV.   When UV is moved into a system where corals are declining,  three to four days is all that is needed for the corals to open and regain their health.  All his tanks are protected with UV sterilization with the exception of the vats.  UV is used here when needed, not by choice, but by economics.


Kirk is a big fan of VHO lighting.  In 55, 70, and 90-gallon tanks you can easily have 440 watts of light.  He knows of no PC fixture that puts out this wattage in a four-foot fixture. Many different color temperatures are also offered in VHO systems.  His opinion is that all soft and most LPS corals will live and grow under VHO lighting of the proper wattage. Kirk feels that "proper attage" is a minimum of six watts per gallon.<Editors' note: "watt per gallon" measurements are considered somewhat subjective.>  He favors PC lighting for 30-36-inch tanks.  Tanks with a 24-inch depth or more,  MH/HQI lights are his recommendation for keeping SPS/LPS corals.  All the display vats use multiple 400 watt MH lighting fixtures.

Kirk will only sell difficult fish like this powder blue tang to experienced aquarists.


“Most stores will sell you anything you want to buy”, laments Kirk. He looks for long-term customers, and fills their head with knowledge and awareness. " I won’t sell Powder Blue Tangs, Copperband Butterflies and the like to newcomers in the hobby.  Eventually these customers will gain knowledge, then wonder why I sold them the fish in the first place." He feels that many of the fish available from wholesalers are species that will rarely live for a year  maintained by the average aquarist.   He wants his customers to enjoy their tanks, not replace fish every month.  Kirk also feels the same way about coral: " I don’t even stock flower pot corals but will order for advanced aquarists with large systems and want to experiment with them."


Additives used in Kirk’s systems are two part alkalinity/calcium supplements, Lugol’s iodine,  Kalkwasser  all on a weekly basis.    No other supplements are used other than an occasional dose of magnesium.  The water parameters in his systems are:

Alkalinity          3.2-3.6 Meq
PH                   8.0+
Calcium            450ppm


Tiers of cubicle displays and four 300 gallon holding systems contain a huge variety of livestock.

Those interested in visiting the store should plan on using Map Quest or other navigation methods  as it is located "off the beaten path".  When one walks in, he is immediately magnetized to the huge 300-gallon vats filled to the brim with live rock and corals.  Don’t expect fancy oak counters and display racks here, but you can expect to see some very healthy corals and fish.  Choosing rock and corals for stocking 120-gallon tank would hardly put a dent in his supply.  Most retailers I’ve visited rarely have enough to nicely stock a 70-gallon tank.  Three large show tanks were being set up while I was there, and I’m sure they will be masterpieces as were the tanks I visited from two of his accounts.  In another area there are tanks full of very healthy colorful fish.  This isn’t a place where you will be in and out in ten minutes as there is just to much to look at.  At the end of the interview, I was given a nice frag of Candy Cane coral that is doing very well.  Thank you Kirk, for your hospitality and a very enjoyable visit.


Kirk Sizing Corals, Initially Kept In Rose Holders


Pier 701 is located at:

701 Haley Street Midland, MI      Phone:  989-835-5414



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