David Tilton, owner of Allquatics, is an artist. If he had been a professional painter during the Renaissance, he’d be celebrated for hundreds of years and displayed in the Louvre. But alas, his passion is ponds and aquariums, so his works will go unappreciated by all but us in the aquatic community. Dave’s mom once told me he started building ponds when he was 5 or 6. He’d dig holes in the backyard, decorate the perimeter with rocks, fill them with water, then add fish he caught from a creek. The rest is history.
Dave is a Certified Aquascape Contractor with several decades of experience working with ponds, reef aquariums, and freshwater aquariums. He’s designed and/or maintained some well-known aquariums in New Jersey and PA. He has been responsible for the famous aquarium at Grounds for Sculpture in NJ for many years. Originally built by Jeff Turner, this unique aquarium is so beautiful, it was featured in the book “Most Beautiful Aquariums in the World” by Alf Jacob Nilsen and Svein A. Fosså. He also installed and maintains the reef at Princeton Library and designs and builds ponds, waterfalls, and displays for the Kimmel center street fair in Philadelphia.
He is known for his art (he is also a very talented painter and illustrator), but also his creative solutions to impossible problems. One client had a tall aquarium built into the wall with a very narrow access panel above it. He wanted a reef, but was told it couldn’t be done by the other local aquarium maintenance companies. Dave came up with a way to reinforce the rock with pliable supports that could be bent just enough to fit into the access panel. He used the latest lighting technology to illuminate all the way to the bottom of the tall reef. It’s one of the most difficult to maintain reefs I’ve ever seen, but Dave turned it into a functional work of art.
He spends the majority of his time designing and building ponds and aquariums, lifting giant boulders, and maintaining aquariums. He uses the store as a home base, and sometimes leaves clutter in his wake as artists are known to do. We are so used to cookie cutter big box stores with waxy floors, organized aisles, bright light, and white walls. Allquatics is not that store. Do not let that distract you from the gems you will find there. Dave is into rare fish, but also uncommon fish that most people don’t even know exist. Sure, you’ll see purple tangs, black tangs, fat Chaoti wrasses, the latest rare coral for a price you can’t believe, a Zebra Pleco…But have you ever heard of a blue Malawi crab? Keep looking. You’ve only scratched the surface.
Full disclosure – I used to work at Allquatics. I feel that instead of making me biased, it just gives me a deeper familiarity with the store and allows me to review it more honestly. How many people can willingly say good things about their former place of employment with a straight face? I’m passionate about supporting local aquarium stores, and this is just my way of giving back to those who gave me a great experience, opportunities, and friendship. Please support your local aquarium store as often as you can. Spend a little more for the value and culture they offer our hobby.