Victor Santucci’s pet store will offer holistic foods, treats, and supplements for all manner of pets, with a special focus on birds, including grooming and boarding services.
By Matt Skoufalos | September 29, 2022
Victor Santucci remembers April 5, 2022 as one of the most difficult days in his life.
That’s the day that a fire broke out in a restaurant next door to the Garden State Pet Center, his Matawan-based business, and then extended into the shop, claiming the lives of about 40 animals within.
“After that, I really didn’t sleep for a long time,” Santucci said. “I treat them like my babies.”
For Santucci, as devastating as the fire was, it also gave him a chance to move the pet business, which he bought in 2018, home to South Jersey.
Now the Oaklyn native is working to transform the former HomeKraft Kitchens storefront on the White Horse Pike into the next iteration of Garden State Pet Center.
“I’m coming back home where I know people,” Santucci said. “All my friends and family are here; the communities here are really great.”
The mission of the store is to create a friendly, welcoming environment for pet owners to learn about their animals and access the food, supplements, and pet-specific goods they need to care for them. Santucci prides himself on retailing high-quality products with a proven track record, and wants to become a source of helpful information for customers to learn more about their pets.
“I’ve always loved pets, but the market is so saturated with misinformation on pet health,” Santucci said. “My focus is on holistic, natural foods, treats, and supplements, for all animals. I’m only focusing on foods that have been proven to be beneficial to the animal.”
Bagged foods at Garden State Pet Center will be organic and human-grade; the shop will also carry raw food, and will provide customer education on its benefits.
“A small, independent pet store that really understands the nutrition needs of every animal is worth its weight in gold,” Santucci said. “That’s my passion: making sure pets have the proper nutrition and enrichment as far as toys, bedding, enclosures.”
Garden State Pet Center also will retail pets, excluding dogs and cats. The shop specializes in exotic and domestic birds (finches, canaries, conyers, Amazons, parrots, toucans, macaws), reptiles (ball pythons, corn snakes, lizards, geckos, frogs), small mammals (rabbits, guinea pigs, hamsters, chinchillas, ferrets), and beta fish. Santucci will provide small animal and bird boarding and grooming services as well.
He also is constructing a “bonding center” within the 2,500-square-foot retail space, in which prospective pet owners may meet and interact with the animals before taking one home.
It will include a beverage station and seating area, and Santucci expects that it will be a particularly clarifying experience for those who purchase birds.
“I don’t just send a bird with anybody,” he said.
“You’ve got to match the bird to the person.
“We wean the birds at a very young age, sometimes two weeks, and we hand-feed them,” Santucci said. “It creates a human bond, which makes it easier to transition into their home, and the new parent can come and spend time with them.
“I’ve had people who came seven days a week, even for an hour a day, until the bird was ready to go.”
Santucci also wants to develop trusted relationships with his customers, the better to support their decision-making around their pets and pet care. He encourages them to contact him at any hour through social media channels, and promises a prompt response.
“We’re the type of business where you can message our Facebook page any time of day or night,” he said. “If I’m up, I’ll respond.
“We want to create lifetime bonds and friendships with our customers,” Santucci said. “We want them to be comfortable with their pets. We want to be a resource.”
Garden State Pet Center is located at 226 South White Horse Pike in Audubon. The storefront is targeting a late fall opening. Hours will be 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. daily to start. For more information, call 856-617-6871, or visit Exoticpetsnj.com.
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