PRINCETON — Lori Boekeloo has always had a soft spot for animals. As a kid, she grew up in the country surrounded by farm animals, and when she went on to college, she worked in pet shops where she grew her passion and appreciation for the critters.
It was always a dream of hers to one day own her own pet shop. In January 2018, she turned that dream into reality when she took over Tanks pet shop in downtown Princeton.
The store, known today as Tanks Boek-El-Zoo, fosters a zoo experience where people are welcome to look around and not be pressured to buy anything.
“I have faith that sales will come as people walk through the door. I encourage interaction here,” she said. “I want to sell pets. I don’t want to sell animals.”
Her business attracts people from miles away, including Peoria, Champaign, Bloomington and even the Chicago area.
Boekeloo said purchasing her own business was a huge leap.
“I kind of use the store as an excuse to get all the animals I never had at home," she said with a laugh.
Boekeloo's shop carries an unique assortment of species, including saltwater fish and hand-fed birds.
“I figure we need to be animal heavy, because I can’t compete product-wise with some of the big box stores,” she said. “We try to keep things you can’t find there.”
The only animals the store does not carry are cats and dogs, as Boekeloo is a huge advocate for local animal shelters.
Aside from animals, the shop also carries a variety of products including fish tanks, reptile supplies, feeders, corals, dog and cat supplies, companion birds and bulk food.
Boekeloo is big on education. She enjoys hosting school and Scout groups who come to tour her pet shop and learn about the creatures she has. There’s a learning center full of books in the back of the store where children are welcome to sit back and do research.
A unique policy she has for children who are interested in buying pet — If they turn in a two-page report on the pet of their choice, they get 10 percent off.
“I feel like that prepares the child more for what they’re getting into,” she said.
A lot of children have taken advantage of this policy. A tack board in the learning center is full of reports written by kids eager to care for their first pet.
Boekeloo is adamant that it's not all about selling animals to customers, but rather making a difference in the community.
Tanks Boek-El-Zoo is located at 628 S. Main St. Business hours are noon to 7 p.m. Monday through Saturday.