BY VON LOZON
It took Phil Barraco three years to open his own nature shop Downriver. He certainly didn’t want or expect this endeavor to take three years, but now everything has come to fruition and he can’t stop smiling while he’s on the ride of his life.
Barraco, a Southgate native and the owner of Wild Birds Unlimited Nature Shop, located at 19093 West Road in Woodhaven, opened the doors to his new business on Friday, Oct. 20. A grand opening was also held from Nov. 3-5. The store sells a variety of bird products, including bird seeds, bird baths, bird houses and other products to attract birds to your backyard.
Before owning his store, Barraco was a furnace technician in the heating and cooling business for 20 years. After years of the work took its toll on his knees, Barraco decided it was time to quit and be his own boss.
“It took three years when we first started looking,” he said. “We were in, we were out and back in again. When we went back in again, I went in with both feet. There is no turning back at that point. I said ‘now I’m doing it. Now I’m really serious about it.’ But I knew this was absolutely for me and it’s something to really be proud of.”
The three-year journey began when Barraco’s wife saw a Wild Birds Unlimited advertisement online. She called the franchise center and they said they had one franchise left available in the state of Michigan — “and it’s right where you’re standing.”
“(My wife) originally wanted to do it, then my knees gave out and here we are,” Barraco said. “It’s a fantastic franchise with great people. I took everything I had, my life savings, and put it into this.”
Barraco also felt the need to open the store because he believes there are not enough stores of this kind in the Downriver area.
“There’s so many people Downriver who are underserved with nice stores,” he said. “How many shops do you have to go to where there are specialized shops for your hobby? I’ve had people come up from Monroe just because they heard about the store and they said ‘yeah we need one nearby!’ So the need was here. We deserve a store like this down here.”
Barraco has been into the hobby since his early 30s, when he took a trip up north. He began feeding sunflower seeds to cardinals and “there was nothing more cool than having a bunch of cardinals against the snowy background.”
While he truly enjoys everything about the hobby, he also admires the fact that birdwatching is relaxing, reduces stress and is good for your mental health.
Eventually, Barraco hopes to have classes where he and other employees can teach the public about identifying species of birds, among other things. Barraco also said he is teaming up with the Detroit River International Wildlife Refuge so people can go on bird walks in the spring.
“There are things that don’t exist anywhere else in the world there,” he said. “So instead of people playing Pokemon Go, people can go out and find something that really exists, and it might be a bird or something you’ve never seen before.”
But at the end of the day, it is all about putting smiles on people’s faces for Barraco.
“That’s all I want to do, just put a smile on people’s faces,” he said. “What’s a smile worth? If I could put a smile on someone’s face every day, that’s my job. Kindhearted people feed birds and I want to put a smile on their face, and that’s why we’re here.”