Q&A: Jace Swims on the business of exotic sea creatures

Jace Swims, Jace Exotics Marine Aquatics & More owner (IBJ photo/Eric Learned)

In a poetic coincidence in which a person’s name and passion match, Jace Swims loves the ocean and feels a strong connection with tropical fish. His pandemic pivot: leaving a tech career on the West Coast and selling exotic sea creatures in Indianapolis.

Swims grew up in Mississippi and moved to the Indianapolis area when he was 18. He earned a general studies degree from Vincennes University and embarked on a career that has mixed sales, technology and marketing. For example, he sold online advertising for Angie’s List in Indianapolis before moving to Las Vegas in 2014 and then southern California in 2016.

While living in San Diego, he fell in love with the saltwater lifestyle and tropical fish. When the pandemic hit, he returned to Indianapolis to be closer to family. He opened Jace Exotics Marine Aquatics & More last month in Broad Ripple.

How did you get interested in tropical fish?

I was 16 or 17 when I got my first saltwater tank. It wasn’t ever anything extravagant. I’d always have a couple of clams and an anemone or something. San Diego is where I developed my love for the ocean because I was able to get in it whenever I wanted. Snorkeling was my outlet. I didn’t have a lot of friends because I wasn’t there that long, so I’d just go snorkeling. I guess the fish became … [laughter] I know how silly it sounds, but the fish became my friends.

How did you end up back in Indianapolis?

The pandemic hit. For a while, you couldn’t go to the store in L.A., or then the lines would be too long, and I thought, “If I’m going to be hungry and not have anything, I might as well be near my family.” And I just stayed in Indy a little too long. Family is the most important thing to me now. I want to see my parents get older and I want to see my 4-year-old niece grow up.

My fish helped me get through the pandemic. I set my tank back up. They just calm me down. I see the fish swimming, and I get a sense of tranquility.

I have five tanks. My friends would come over and say, “You know, you’re working on these all day long.” I asked them, “What would you think if I opened a store?” And they said, “I think it would be great, because you do this all day long, anyway.”

Is there a big market for tropical fish in Indianapolis?

Actually, there are a lot of fish enthusiasts in Indy who are famous for saltwater fish. A ton of people have amazing tanks in Indianapolis, and I think it may be because we’re a landlocked state. I think it’s been a big thing in underground Indy.

What sets your shop apart?

It’s more of a boutique, not a pet shop. If you don’t know what you want, we love to chat and hang out, and it definitely has easygoing vibes. But it’s also a place where, if you do have a 1,000-gallon tank, we will have something that suits your tank that day. And if not, we can order it for you, and we usually get deliveries overnight. Then I pick them up at the airport.

I thought I loved the tech industry for many years—and I guess I did. I loved my peers. I loved the money I was making. But I think it’s much more fulfilling when it’s something that I actually enjoy doing. And I could do this all day long.•

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