Boone aquarium shop turns over new reef with fresh ownership

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Maggie Busch

Reef Magic recently reopened in Boone under new ownership. It offers different types of coral and fish to purchase.

Hollie Moore, Reporter

Even at 3,333 feet above sea level, two aquarium store owners managed to bring the saltwater lifestyle to the mountains of Boone.

App State alumni find themselves back in the heart of Boone, obtaining new ownership of the local Reef Magic aquarium store after a short ride with corporate careers. 

Reef Magic, which opened in 1992, is one of the oldest aquarium stores in North Carolina, according to its most recent owners, Jacob Hudson and Noah Privott. 

Hudson and Privott, co-owners of Reef Magic since Jan. 1, 2020, graduated from App State in 2018 with degrees in biology and exercise science, respectively. 

Both worked “almost corporate jobs for a little while” before ending up with Reef Magic. They came to the curiosity “hey, maybe we can do this on our own instead of under someone else,” Privott said.

At the new aquarium store, Reef Magic, located on the 221N Bypass, many different kinds of fish are on display for sale, like oscar fish and jewel cichlids. (Maggie Busch)

Hudson worked for the previous owner of Reef Magic during his time at App State, seizing the opportunity to buy the business from the previous owner. 

“I’ve always done this. This has always been my hobby, ever since I was a kid,” Hudson said. “I honestly don’t know how I got here. It’s weird. I just took some chances.”

Privott worked as an EMT for three years before the pandemic with the intention of being a physician’s assistant. But he said once the pandemic hit, he lost his passion for it.

Privott said he had “no intentions of buying into a fish store, but things happen, and about a year ago, I kind of quit being a medic.”

Hudson and Privott have spent most of their time in the past few months focusing on their website, The Coral Lab. The website exhibits many types of coral with their expressed dedication to reversing recent damage on coral from bleaching in the saltwater ecosystems. 

“Our hobby is the coral. That’s been both his and I’s hobby for a while,” Privott said. “And we started a website for it, just growing our own coral as well as buying it through a local wholesaler.”

With Hudson and Privett spending most of their time based at home, north of Winston-Salem, and commuting to Boone at least twice a week, they have four part-time employees who run their store in their absence. 

Jules Silver, the Reef Magic general manager, is an App State graduate student. She has been working at Reef Magic since June 2020, being able to witness its changes through new ownership.

“There is something about it to me that remains timeless,” Silver said. “Not necessarily in the renovations but just that it’s like the only place for authentic, unique, rare, exotic saltwater and coral.”

Silver said that the position with the business has been “one of, if not the coolest job” she has ever had.

The owners are trying to support companies who don’t harm the environment as they also make similar strides toward sustainability in their business.

“It’s important for the hobby too because, overall, the aquarium hobby is very bad for the environment,” Hudson said. “So it’s very important, in my view, to just set a standard because it can be done sustainably, but a lot of people don’t.”

Reef Magic should be fully renovated by the end of next year, Hudson said. They are waiting for the economy to stabilize and prices to come down, but the store remains open for customers.

“I’d like to just let people know, we are here, this is available, it’s not that expensive,” Hudson said. “It’s also free to look. We got lots of cool stuff.”