BY JON O’CONNELL
Bright yellow boxfish swam lazily inside their quarantine tank in the aquarium’s back room.
They weren’t avoiding the coronavirus. The Electric City Aquarium and Reptile Den’s newest inhabitants waited for their final home to be ready.
Scranton’s popular attraction inside the Marketplace at Steamtown, home to hundreds of exotic creatures, closed three months ago just as peak season started.
The sudden shutdown led to a searing loss in revenue, but in the meantime, owner Cliff Grosvenor is adding new exhibits and modifying old ones that embrace social distance and cleanliness. He hopes to come back strong whenever he’s allowed to reopen.
“We’re going to have less to touch but more to see,” he said.
Lackawanna County meets the criteria laid out by the state government for advancing to the green phase, which could come as soon as this week. Shopping malls and indoor entertainment venues can reopen under the green phase as long as they maintain 50% of their occupancy limits.
Grosvenor said he canceled more than 160 school trips planned for the spring months.
Field trips account for a significant portion of visitors, with groups trekking from the Poconos and upstate New York. Some bring hundreds of students at a time.
Scranton Mayor Paige Gebhardt Cognetti said the aquarium provides “unique educational opportunities for kids and families.”
“Like many Scranton businesses, the effects of COVID-19 have been financially devastating,” she said in a written statement. “The City is fortunate that the Aquarium is committed to staying open. The City is here to provide any assistance that we can.”
Among the changes underway, Grosvenor’s nixing the “touch” part of the touch tanks, at least for now.
Staff will still watch over the two open tanks and answer questions about the creatures inside, but visitors cannot stick their hands in.
Last week, as keepers bustled around the aquarium, Grosvenor installed plumbing under one of his new exhibits, a shipwreck tank scene that juts from the wall. Across the room in the large touch tank, cownose stingrays nudged the glass with rubbery snouts when workers passed, as if they were hoping for a back rub.
Some exhibits have changed more naturally over the last three months.
Hard coral in one tank has grown larger and healthier. The crocodiles and sharks are bigger, too.
Grosvenor gets excited when he describes the new boxfish exhibit.
“There’s all kinds of weird, crazy little fish that don’t even look real,” he said.
The small, cube-shaped swimmers are speckled. Some have horns. All of them look bizarre.
After three months with no revenue, Grosvenor said the future is a little uncertain, and he’s expecting a financial struggle over the next few months.
“The aquarium’s really going to need the community’s help this year,” Grosvenor said.
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