A Passion for Parrots
By JL Stevens / Fiddlehead Contributing Editor
Roman’s Parrot & Toy Empire in Salem is for the birds.
The store is a blast to the senses. Walk through the front door and enter a whimsical world of toys.
Think rubber duckies and red hearts, jewel-tone plastic, metal bells, rustic coconut shells stuffed with husks and hand-painted wooden blocks in red, green and purple.
It might seem jarring, but there are certain feathered friends who consider it a playground. And one shop owner, responsible for it all.
“It’s kind of a niche group,” admitted proprietor Brittany Arnold, of owning a parrot shop. Roman – shown in breathtaking blue on her signs and business cards – is her family bird.
“He’s our hyacinth macaw. He is two-and-a-half years old and lives at home. Parrots can live forever, so Roman is a baby.”
Arnold grew up with parrots as pets and decided to make her love of the exotic birds into her avocation.
“I kind of made my passion a reality, so to speak,” said Arnold of the store. From the back of the shop, there is some squawking, and quite possibly talking from the large bird room.
“I have a large bird room and a small bird room, as you can hear,” she said. “This is my larger bird section that I call my ‘will bird’ section because they can live to 40 to 60-plus years.” The name is derived from the possible need to “will” them to someone should they outlive you.
The front door opens, and a woman comes in to speak about boarding her bird. Arnold doesn’t just sell small and large parrots, she boards them as well. She also sells a variety of bird food, which, except for pellets containing nutritional supplements, might have a shelf in a high-end health food store.
And then, of course, there are all those toys.
Do parrots appreciate toys more than other birds?
“Yes,” said Arnold. “For certain parrots, yes. A lot of it is for enrichment. In order for you to keep a bird busy, you give them a toy that they can just shred and go to town on it, so to speak, and destroy.”
The entire left side of the store is the vendor toy area, and the entire right side is the (more creative) side of toys, handcrafted by Arnold and her family, including homemade jute and origami-like toys, which look like beautiful decorations but actually stimulate play. The shop also carries essential oils used to help calm and relax the birds.
Speaking of family, Arnold’s little sister Alyssa comes into the shop to help after she’s through with high school for the day. She seems to enjoy the camaraderie – and mild cacophony. The birds seem to like her as well.
What a parrot thinks of you is a serious matter, Arnold said. For instance, a customer cannot just come into the store, point to a parrot and go home with it the same day.
“I have a policy that I require at least two to three visits to actually get introduced to the bird, interact with the bird, make sure that there’s a bond that’s already starting with that bird,” said Arnold. “It’s not even just a monetary issue, it’s along the lines of (communicating to the customer that) these animals can live 20 to 25 to 30 years, and I like to educate people as much as I can before they go and purchase a bird. Sometimes you have people who just love the colors. Well, they didn’t do their research to find out what it’s like to own one of these types of parrots.
“It comes down to making sure they go to great homes. It’s more about their safety, as well as how they interact with that person, and to make sure that it’s a solid bond that’s forming.”
Arnold is an expert at clicking with parrots. On this day, there are two birds in the large room, a severe macaw and a female blue and gold macaw. She is coaxing the female out if its cage.
Arnold doesn’t name them, because, as she said, “I’d become a little bit more attached than I already am, and when people get home they find out their personality and they’re most likely going to end up changing their name anyway.”
But she does call this one “beautiful” more than once.
If you ask Arnold to tell you secrets about parrots, she has a few to impart: You can cuddle with them; some species bond much better with certain genders; they’re toddlers for life, meaning mischievous and they get into things; and it’s thought to be good luck if your parrot regurgitates on you.
Also, she said, “They’re just very intelligent animals: They can decipher between colors, they can decipher between shapes. It just takes time and patience to teach them.”
“The majestic blue and gold macaw can say ‘hello, I love you’ – and she gives kisses.”
To learn more about Roman’s Parrot & Toy Empire, find the store on Facebook, call 978-807-5828 or email email@example.com.