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rubinoThere are very few shops in the Chicago area where you can buy a live, three-foot shark. Then again, there are very few shops where the owner can definitively say, “This stuff is like a drug. Once customers are hooked, they are in my store every day.”

The drug Mario Rubino is talking about is saltwater fish, and the store he’s referring to is Aquatica in Tinley Park. Ten years ago, Rubino took a leap of faith and pursued his passion.

“My family has a grocery store, Rubino’s Italian Imports in Tinley Park, and I used to work there with my brothers,” Rubino explains. “As we expanded the grocery store, some retail space became available and I decided to turn my lifelong hobby into a business where I could share my passion with customers.”

Rubino has been amassing marine expertise since he was a kid. “When I was younger, I had a bunch of tanks,” adds Rubino. “One tank turned into ten.”

That expertise has blossomed into an extremely successful retail operation.

“We originally started off occupying a 1,400-square-foot store,” Rubino notes. “We are now well over 5,000 square feet.”

Aquatica has an expanding freshwater department, but its main source of revenue comes from seas and oceans around the world.

Unlike other stores, Aquatics specializes in large, exotic and hard-to-find marine life. Sparing no expense, Rubino receives shipments two to three times a week from locales as far away as Australia, Africa and even Indonesia.

A 3,000-gallon shark pond serves as the centerpiece of the store, which also houses tank after tank teeming with blueface and queen angels, blue line and clown triggers, Hawaiian dragon eels, Mandarin fish, lineatus wrasses and much more.

“My parents are from Ripacandida in the Basilicata Region of southern Italy,” adds Rubino. “My Italian roots have made me a hard-working businessman. We’re all very dedicated to our customers.”

With clients sometimes driving two to three hours to shop at Aquatica, it’s no surprise that Rubino knows 90 percent of his customers by their first name.

“A lot of my customers come in for one tank and then end up with three or more,” says Rubino.”

Sound familiar?

Aquatica is located at 16649 Oak Park Ave. in Tinley Park. For details, call 708-716-4962 or visit www.aquaticatinleypark.com.

About Lissa Druss Christman

Nine-time Emmy award winner Lissa Druss Christman is a veteran communications strategist specializing in public affairs, crisis communications and public relations. She also brings more than two decades of experience as a news and sports television producer to bear on behalf of her clients. She is the chairman of the board of directors of The Jarrett Payton Foundation, a member of the National Italian American Foundation and a volunteer with the Joint Civic Committee of Italian Americans and the Shrine of Our Lady of Pompeii. Lissa spent more than a decade with Bears Care, the charitable arm of the Chicago Bears.