Salt of the water
New coral, saltwater fish store opens in downtown Waukesha

By Hannah Weikel - Freeman Staff

Oct. 21, 2017

A piece of neon green coral sways in a saltwater tank at the back of Saltwater Specialty, a new store open downtown that sells coral cuttings, fish and tank setups.
Hannah Weikel/Freeman Staff

WAUKESHA - Brett Ekebom has fostered a fascination with coral reefs and saltwater tanks since he was 14 years old, cleaning filters and feeding fish at a store in Illinois. Years later, he bought a 75-gallon saltwater aquarium for a tanning salon he owned and started breeding clown fish and growing coral in his free time.

Saltwater Specialty — Ekebom’s newest business venture — opened a storefront in downtown Waukesha two weeks ago. It sells strictly saltwater goods like fish and coral.

Ekebom said most of his customers so far have been hobbyists, many of whom were bored with freshwater tanks and decided to convert them to saltwater.

“Hobbyists: that’s really all I am, it just kinda grew,” Ekebom said. “I’ve always had a fish tank. I wanted a reef and that’s how it all started.”

His hobby grew quickly from one saltwater tank to breeding clown fish and ending up with thousands of offspring that he sold to stores.

A clown fish inspects the camera lens from one of the dozens of saltwater tanks that hold fish and coral reefs in Saltwater Specialty on Thursday afternoon.
Hannah Weikel/Freeman Staff

“Then I got really into the coral,” Ekebom said.

Coral dealers are able to grow coral through a process called “fragging,” which takes a small piece of coral that falls or breaks off a larger piece, places it in a stable place and patiently lets it grow, Ekebom said.Some mistake coral as plants, but they are actually animals that require a strong light source and water flow that mimics the ocean currents.

Each type of coral requires different conditions to thrive and all that information is available on the internet, Ekebom said.

Getting started with saltwater

Saltwater Specialty houses more than a dozen tanks, some with two or three tropical fish and others teeming with neon, feathery or bulbous coral cuttings. All of them are for sale.

There’s even a pool of tiny coral pieces sold at $10 each.

The store also sells a starter tank with lights, a filter and a stand, all for about $400. Ekebom said it’s easy to add and care for a few saltwater fish for relatively little money.

Saltwater Specialty recently opened on North Main Street in downtown Waukesha and offers hobbyists a selection of coral and saltwater fish.
Hannah Weikel/Freeman Staff

“It’s when you want to do coral and some of the invertebrates that you need really bright lights and wave makers,” he said, adding that the newest technology makes it inexpensive to heat and light aquariums.

For people looking to expand their tank and start growing coral, the cost escalates quickly but creativity and patience allows tanks to be “as cool as you want,” Ekebom said.

Saltwater Specialty is open Tuesday through Friday from 12 to 7 p.m. and Saturday and Sunday from 12 to 4 p.m. The shop is closed Monday.