MEDFORD — Things may be getting wild soon at the outlet mall located in Medford, but that, say city officials and the creatures’ keepers, is a good thing.
Thanks to an ordinance change by the Medford City Council, two new installments are making their way to Ultra Outlets of Minnesota and More, commonly referred to as the Medford Outlet Center.
During the city council meeting on Monday night, the council unanimously approved adding language to the city code that will allow pet stores and zoos within city limits. Council member Grace Bartlett was absent from the meeting.
In the amendment, pet stores will now be authorized in C-2 zoning districts, which are community commercial districts located on Main Street in downtown Medford and stretching to Casey’s General Store. The amendment also authorizes both pet stores and zoos to be located within the C-3 zoning districts, which are the regional commercial districts located on the west side of the interstate containing the outlet mall.
Where the language change was necessary fell under section 4.33 of the Medford City Code, which prohibits exotic and wild animals within city limits, including venomous snakes, venomous fish and tarantulas. Some of these animals will likely be found in the two businesses looking to procure a location at the Outlet Center.
“Getting the ordinance changed was one of our first steps,” said Melissa Pastika, co-owner of the RAD Zoo located in Owatonna. “We haven’t signed a lease yet with the Outlet Center, but we are trying to shift over once we finish going through the rest of the steps.”
According to Pastika, the RAD Zoo — or the Reptile and Amphibian Discovery Zoo — has been located along County Road 45 in Owatonna for the last 10 years. While Pastika and her husband have enjoyed being a part of the Owatonna community, she stated that the outlet mall would be a nicer location in terms of parking and being mixed among the various retail options.
The RAD Zoo is home to a diverse collection of animals from all over the world from snakes to crocodiles to pythons to poison dart frogs. The animals are exhibited in naturalistic recreations of their native environments, including a large Minnesota turtle pool that allows visitors to “meet their neighbors” right in their backyard. The zoo also features weekend animal feedings, hosts birthday parties, and is the home to Justin Beiber’s former pet albino boa constrictor, “Johnson.”
“We will bring everything we have here over there and add a few new animals,” Pastika said. “We like to keep it new and exciting and we do bring in new things every so often.”
Joining the RAD Zoo in the outlet mall will be a brand new business, Happy Tails Pet Shop. Owatonna native Barry Benjamin, a former employee of RAD Zoo, has been a part of the pet industry for the last 18 years, with more than 10 years of managing experience. With the ordinance change in Medford, Benjamin said he is ecstatic to bring a high-end pet store to the surrounding area.
“I just have a real passion for animals,” Benjamin explained. “If you ever want to hear a good story, talk to my mom about all the weird things I brought into the house growing up.”
At Happy Tails, Benjamin said he is planning to provide a wide range of customer-based products for any pet need. He stated that he will only provide pet food that has never gone through a recall and plans on providing a wide range of pets for sale, including both fresh and saltwater fish, tortoises, lizards, snakes, and birds.
“I want to present this all in a clean and comfortable site with each environment centrally ventilated,” Benjamin added. “This isn’t just for the comfort and health for our customers, but also for the animals.”
Though Benjamin is happy to provide a wide option of potential pets for his patrons, there are two animals that the pet shop will not be offering for sale.
“I’m not going to be selling dogs or cats,” he asserted. “I am a huge supporter of humane societies. Both my dog and cat are from the humane society, so I am hoping to have some of them lined up to bring animals hopefully every weekend to adopt.”
“I have a big heart for animals and when I do visit shelters, which is about once a month. It’s just heart-wrenching,” Benjamin continued. “It just makes you want to spend as much time with the animals as you possible can, so I’m going to bring those places in to my store to adopt those animals out instead of making the choice to sell them.”
While there is no set timeline for either business to be moving into the outlet mall, both Benjamin and the Pastikas are enthusiastic about the next chapter in their careers being located in Medford.
While the amendment is making the move of these businesses into city limits possible, city administrator Andy Welti said that there are still limits to what animals can be within residential zoning districts.
“This [amendment] only allows those animals to be in a pet store or in a zoo in the applicable zoning district,” Welti stated, though added that the city will assure to be forthright to the pet store about which animals are not allowed to be within the residential districts of Medford so they are aware of any potential obstacles it may pose to their business.
“I don’t know the exact number of pet owners in Medford, but I know that the percentage is very high,” Welti added. “A business selling pet supplies, pet food, and pets is definitely going to draw a lot of customers.”
Welti also stated that having a well-established business such as the RAD Zoo move into the outlet mall will likely increase the customer base to other retail areas located at the center.