Oaklyn resident prepares new pet store in Audubon’s storefront

Victor Santucci’s pet store will offer holistic foods, treats and supplements for all kinds of pets, with a particular focus on birds, including grooming and boarding services.

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By Matt Skoufalos | September 29, 2022

Garden State Pet Center logo. Credit: Garden State Pet Center.

Victor Santucci remembers April 5, 2022 as one of the most difficult days of his life.

It was the day a fire broke out at a restaurant near the Garden State Pet Center, his Matawan-based business, then spread to the store, killing around 40 people.

“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 the opportunity to move the pet business, which he bought in 2018, 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 the Garden State Pet Center.

“I come back home where I know people,” Santucci said. “All my friends and family are here; the communities here are really great.

The store’s mission is to create a friendly and welcoming environment for pet owners to learn about their pets and access the specific food, supplements and products they need to care for them. Santucci prides itself on retailing high quality products with a proven track record and wants to be a helpful source of information for customers to learn more about their pets.

“I’ve always loved pets, but the market is so saturated with misinformation about animal health,” Santucci said. “I focus on holistic, natural foods, treats and supplements, for all animals. I only focus on foods that have proven beneficial to the animal.

Bagged foods at the Garden State Pet Center will be organic and human-grade; the store will also offer raw food and inform customers of its benefits.

“A small, independent pet store that truly understands each animal’s nutritional needs is worth its weight in gold,” Santucci said. “It’s my passion: making sure pets have the proper nutrition and enrichment when it comes to toys, bedding, enclosures.”

The Garden State Pet Center will also sell pets, except dogs and cats. The shop specializes in exotic and domestic birds (finches, canaries, conyers, amazons, parrots, toucans, macaws), reptiles (royal pythons, corn snakes, lizards, geckos, frogs), small mammals (rabbits, guinea pigs , hamsters, chinchillas, ferrets) and beta fish. Santucci will also provide boarding and grooming services for small animals and birds.

Garden State Pet Center will transport small pets and birds, owner Victor Santucci said. Credit: Matt Skoufalos.

It’s also building a “bonding center” in the 2,500 square foot retail space, where prospective pet owners can meet and interact with the animals before bringing one home.

It will include a drinks station and seating area, and Santucci expects this to be a particularly clarifying experience for those buying birds.

“I don’t just send a bird with anybody,” he said.

“You have to match the bird to the person.

“We wean the birds at a very young age, sometimes two weeks old, and hand-feed them,” Santucci said. “It creates a human connection, which makes the transition to their home easier, and the new parent can come and spend time with them.

“I’ve had people come seven days a week, even an hour a day, until the bird is ready to go.”

Santucci also wishes to develop relationships of trust with its customers, in order to better support them in their decision-making regarding their pets and their care. He encourages them to contact him at any time via social networks and promises a quick response.

“We’re the type of business where you can message our Facebook page any time of the day or night,” he said. “If I’m up, I’ll answer.

“We want to create lasting 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 aiming for a late opening in the fall. Hours will be 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. daily to begin. For more information, call 856-617-6871 or visit Exoticpetsnj.com.