It sits on a street filled with clothing shops, restaurants and mom and pop stores, on 87th Street in Avalon Park. Giant images of fish and coral reefs cover the store windows of Aquatic Oasis.
Inside is owner Brandon Holmes, the newest Black businessman on the block. At 35 years old, Holmes has the only aquatics store on the street and perhaps in all of Chicago’s Black neighborhoods. He sells saltwater aquarium tanks of all shapes and sizes. Holmes also sells all kinds of fish, turtles, baby sharks, and animals that are part of marine life. There are also fish nets, algae mitts, water pumps and just about every item that goes into a fish tank.
Open since May, Holmes’ shop has been making waves among customers. Many celebrated with Holmes as he held an official grand opening ribbon-cutting ceremony July 3 that was attended by Reverend Jesse Jackson. Throughout the Fourth of July weekend, customers flocked to his store at 87th Street and East End to gaze at large aquarium tanks filled with colorful fish swimming among exotic plants and rocks.
It was Holmes’ life-long dream that came true that weekend as customers kept the cash register busy. Many never owned a fish tank and knew little about running one in their own home. That is where Holmes comes in as a businessman and educator who teaches customers about how to build and maintain an aquarium and keep fish healthy with proper feeding.
Holmes’ knowledge and passion for aquariums put customers at ease as many find the details of maintaining a tank intimidating, time-consuming or expensive.
During a Crusader journalist’s visit July 3, journalist Carl West was shopping for a new aquarium for his home. He looked at several before deciding on a small, five-gallon tank. West said Holmes will visit his home to assemble the tank and show him how to operate it and feed the fish.
“They’re cool and I haven’t had one in years,” West said.
This is Holmes’ first time owning a business. To Holmes, Aquatic Oasis is not just a business but a lifelong passion with a purpose. He was born in Hyde Park and raised in Beverly, where he said he encountered racial problems. Holmes was on the swim team at Chicago High School for Agricultural Sciences (CHAS), a magnet school in Mount Greenwood.
Holmes said his love for the water and marine life grew when his parents filled their home with many aquarium tanks. Holmes’ mother works at her son’s new store. Holmes said when he was a child, he would often visit the Shedd Aquarium and the Museum and Science and Industry. He said he would frequent the Shedd Aquarium every weekend because his friend’s mother worked there.
Holmes said his mother works for American Airlines, which allows him to travel the world for free to fulfill his love for marine life. Holmes said he’s been on swimming trips to Jamaica, the Virgin Islands, Hawaii, Mexico, the Dominican Republic, Miami. He once worked for the National Newspaper Publishers Association when he was living in Washington, D.C. Holmes said that is where he learned about the Chicago Crusader.
Holmes has been to Sea World in Florida. In 2006, as part of a study abroad program, Holmes studied in Ecuador where he went SCUBA diving with sharks. The next year, Holmes graduated from Howard University with a degree in advertising. He did several internships, but his heart wasn’t into it.
Holmes said sales at his store are “pretty good” so far. He is optimistic about the future sales at his store and is building a huge showcase aquarium tank in the back of the store.
Life wasn’t always smooth sailing for Holmes. He said at one point he lived a life of crime and drugs on Chicago’s streets years after graduating from college. He said people in the drug culture told him that he was going to be a big person on the street one day.
Holmes said things changed last November when he was eating at Thomas’ Restaurant across the street. He said someone there wanted to turn him into the police after accusing him of something he did not do. Holmes said after that he looked across the street to a vacant building and saw that it was for rent. Then he made a trip to a pet store in a Chicago suburb, where he got the vision of running one in his neighborhood.
Holmes said he used a chunk of savings, along with funds from investors, to open the store.
“This is something that has changed my life and my direction of where I want to be,” He said. “I had to make a decision.”