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Downtown Elgin for the birds — at a new pet store

A cockatiel watches curiously from outside it's cage Friday AJ's Feathered Friends Pet Shop Elgin.  February 15 2013

A cockatiel watches curiously from outside it's cage Friday at AJ's Feathered Friends Pet Shop in Elgin. February 15, 2013 | Michael Smart~Sun-Times Media

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Updated: March 20, 2013 6:09AM

ELGIN — Andrew Malinish and fiance Juliette Ruiz have big dreams that are just taking flight. And those dreams involve birds.

The two recently opened AJ’s Feathered Friends Pet Shop at 19 N. State St. (Route 31), just southeast off the Highland Avenue intersection and not far from the downtown train and bus depots.

The duo met while serving in the Army in Okinawa, where Malinish, a Pittsburgh native, was serving as a sergeant and Ruiz as a specialist before returning to civilian life about eight months ago.

Pointing to a caged canary by the store’s counter, Malinish said, “That bird right there is how this all started.”

He explained that Ruiz wanted a canary when the couple settled in the Cobbler’s Crossing subdivision on Elgin’s northeast side. Buying the singer sparked an interest in getting into the pet business.

“I wanted to sell reptiles, too,” Malinish said with a laugh.

Actually, Malinish claims he did breed and sell all sorts of fish while living in Japan. For all things aviary, the learning station turned out to be attending bird fairs held on Saturdays at the Rolling Meadows Park District building. That led to Malinish meeting Jeff Myhre of Wisconsin Exotics Aviary in Racine, whom Malinish now considers his mentor — and the idea for opening a shop.

The couple also sought help putting together a business plan that could lead to seed money and found it through Accion Chicago, a small-business lender, and the Small Business Development Center at Elgin Community College.

There, business analyst Sybil Ege first told the two they didn’t have much of a plan. So they studied, revised what they had, and wound up opening the store.

Thus far, getting word out about the new endeavor has been through word of mouth and a Facebook page. There online, one can find a colorful list of birds AJ’s currently carries: finches including cutthroat male, java white zebra, and society types; baby gouldians; black masked, lutino and peach faced lovebirds; jenday and green cheek conures; regular and lineolated parakeets; and Pacific blue parrotlets.

That’s not to mention that the pair has 30 pairs of breeding birds, which they are hand-feeding and which include a recently purchased mating pair of African gray parrots.

Taking care of so many birds means keeping the shop between 65 and 77 degrees and at the right humidity, as well as knowing the variety of each type’s diet. Being competitive means keeping prices for birds (which range from $13 to $800), cages and accessories below what might be found at big chain pet stores — and having supplies for some other small animals for sale.

The couple also have a dog and three young daughters, including an infant. Ruiz also is attending college online through the University of Maryland, working full-time as a chiropractic assistant — and can clip bird nails and wings.

Ruiz admitted that all this can be pretty stressful.

“But you have to have a passion and love for what you do,” she said.

More information and store hours, call 847-695-5624.

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