Store offers place for all pets
Exotic Jungle in business for 30 years
Tilly has been greeting customers to the Exotic Jungle for 30 years now.
In fact, some patrons come to the Mileground pet store just to see the yellow naped Amazon parrot.
“She should have her own Facebook page cause everybody just comes in, ‘I’m just here to see Tilly, just here to talk to Tilly.’ And she’s a character. Everybody loves her. She’s been here since day one,” Exotic Jungle owner Emily Sanders said.
This year, the store celebrates its 30th anniversary, and Sanders said she’s grateful for the customers and employees — both past and present — as she looks back on the past three decades.
Exotic Jungle offers a variety of pet needs, such as food, beds, treats, health items and more, for several different animals, from cats and dogs to fish and birds to hamsters and reptiles.
“We have enjoyed so much serving everybody and trying to make people and their pets as happy as we possibly can,” Sanders said.
The store is also involved in rescuing cats, but, like the bird Tilly, a few of the felines are still hanging around the store because they like it there.
“We have a few cats that actually have made this their home because they’ve made it clear they don’t want to be rescued, I guess,” Sanders said, laughing. “They’ve been here about four years, and people come in just to see them. They’ve got their own fan base.”
Lisa Phillips opened the store in 1985, and Sanders joined her in 1988. In 2007, Phillips left the Exotic Jungle to go into the restaurant business, and Sanders took over the pet shop.
Her main goal, she said, is to give customers the answers they need and deserve.
“Word does get around about our knowledge and that we’re willing to take the time, even on the telephone for an hour, to work through any problems or issues, questions that they may have concerning any animal,” she said.
Customer Dawn Ruff would agree. She said she purchases dog food from the store on a regular basis, but she enjoys that she can walk in and Sanders greets her as a friend. In fact, all the employees are knowledgeable, so when she has a question, they’re more than willing to help out.
“They like that feeling of being involved,” Ruff said. “It’s just a nice feeling when you go in there.”
Ruff’s daughter, Cheryl Deaner, is a teacher at South Middle School. Her sixth-grade class cares for a turtle, and Deaner said she turns to the Exotic Jungle for advice about the reptile all the time.
“I feel like I trust them more than a bigger corporation,” she said.
“I’ve always had animals in my classroom,” such as gerbils, lab rats, geckos and fish, Deaner added. She likes the personal attention she receives from Sanders and the other employees at the Mileground pet shop.
Frank Scafella shops at the store often for his two cats. He said he enjoys the hometown feel of the store, and he appreciates its history in the Morgantown area.
“They know you. You’re greeted like a friend, not just somebody off the street,” Scafella said. “And if you want something special, they’re going to get it.”
Sanders even told Scafella about an all-natural cat food that helps to keep cats healthier than the grain-laden varieties.
“She’s just a very bright and easy going and informative person,” he said.
While Sanders said she didn’t always see herself as a pet store owner, her love for animals has been there all along.
“As a kid, I was always in the pet shops. Always,” she said. “And I still remember going back to the far corner and getting up the guts to go look at that tarantula. And I’m still terrified of spiders, but we do a big spider business.”
Throughout the year, the Exotic Jungle will feature specials to celebrate the 30th anniversary.
“People are really big into fish again, and we’re running a lot of sales on fish tanks, along with everything else in the shop,” she said.
Another big part of the Exotic Jungle’s business involves the reptiles. Sanders said she has customers asking all the time about what big snake the store houses these days.
“The reptiles have been a huge part of our business, and we offer everything to go with them also,” she said.
Looking back, Sanders said it’s really her stellar employees who have made the shop a constant success.
“There’s no way this business would have become what it was without them,” she said. “It’s been a great ride, getting to know these people and watching them from age 14 to somewhere in their 30s now.
“You really have an extended family with everybody.”
Location: 1716 Mileground Road, Morgantown, WV 26505
Hours: 10 a.m.-7 p.m. Monday-Saturday, noon-
5 p.m. Sunday (Sunday hours will soon extend to 11 a.m.-6 p.m.)