Bloomington aquarium business puts art in aquatics

BLOOMINGTON, Ind. (AP) — Ben Caswell got his first freshwater aquarium at the age of 5 and filled it with small African frogs and fish. From there, he was hooked.

“I was the kid that had multiple things that had fish and stuff, so I always had at least four tanks growing up,” Caswell said. “I love marine life.”

The young aquarist turned his passion for fish into a career by developing a business that creates and cleans aquariums.

After taking local small business classes, Caswell began his venture, Artistic Aquatics, in 2011 by asking potential customers if they needed assistance with their aquarium cleaning.

“We were walking around downtown Bloomington to doctor’s offices and lawyer’s offices — I mean I went everywhere,” Caswell said.

He caught his first break, and customer, at Baldy’s Pizzeria on Bloomington’s south side. His business has grown since and now cares for 30 to 35 aquariums.

One client, Joseph Gerbofsky, wanted to create a relaxing atmosphere to pair with his saltwater relaxation business Serenus Float and Wellness.

“The reason I wanted an aquarium is because I’m an ex-Navy diver, so I wanted to bring back a little bit of the ocean here,” Gerbofsky said. “I just thought it would add a good state of relaxation, so for people after they float (in the saltwater tubs), they can go and watch pretty fish.”

Gerbofsky’s tank was custom built by Caswell to match the decor and flooring of his business. The 120-gallon saltwater tank was installed a month ago, and Caswell will soon introduce a variety of fish into the tank.

“We were going to look at some fish together,” Gerbofsky said at his business with Caswell there as well. “He told me we could get an eel, a zebra eel, so I’ve been telling people that.”

“That would be really cool,” Caswell responded.

Caswell started to dive into custom- built aquariums a year ago after noticing that fathers and children wanted the aquariums, but typically the mothers were turned off by the stands.

“If I can make them a piece of furniture, then he can get the fish tank,” he said.

It takes Caswell and his one full-time employee three weeks to build wood furniture and, depending on the type of tank, up to four months for it to be completed — with fish and all.

In addition to cleaning and building custom aquariums, Caswell helps educate his clients on the best types of fish to create the right mood they want to achieve in the space, whether business or residential. Budget is also a big consideration. Exotic fish can cost hundreds of dollars and can easily be killed by a simple change in pH or water temperature. To help prevent problems in the aquarium, Caswell can install a system to track each one that he can monitor from his phone.

“I had an aquarium in a doctor’s office and they had left for winter break so they turned the heating down in the building,” Caswell said. “So I saw on my phone the temperature of the water was decreasing pretty rapidly and fish start to get stressed out if the temperature changes five or six degrees, so I told them that they may want to turn the heat back up and they did. It was good they didn’t come back to a tank full of dead fish.”

Caswell said he typically checks and cleans on tanks twice a month, and when he does, he checks on the fish as well.

“I like to feed the fish everytime I get to the business and I step back and watch them too,” Caswell said. “They really do (get to know me). I’m a fish nerd.”