Not too long ago, Simbad’s Birds & Pets opened its doors to neighbors, friends and customers for its annual Customer Appreciation Day.
A tent was erected outside the muraled building, under which various perches and cages were arranged for display. Inside, the store was abuzz with activity.
Refreshments, pastries and hors d’oeuvres were set up near the entrance; a vendor booth was assembled in the toys, feed and accessories area, and the Bird Man of Cocowalk, Juan Vasquez, entertained attendees with photo ops and tricks with the help of four of his feathered friends. Although a raffle took place later in the day awarding prizes to a lucky few, there were giveaways throughout the event and discounted inventory across the entire store.
“We’ve been here so long we now have third-generation costumers and it’s really nice,” said Alfredo Ona, who owns the South Florida institution with his wife, Helga. “We’ve seen our first customers have their kids and see their kids grow up, go to college and come back, and now they’re married and have their own kids. It’s like our family is growing.
“This is our way of saying ‘thank you’ to our community for helping us be successful and stay in this location for so long,” he added.
The Onas, who first began working with exotic birds in 1980 while importing them from Bolivia, opened Simbad’s Bird House in 1987 at 7201 Bird Rd. They grew the location, which at first modestly spanned 900 square feet, into the 5,000-square-foot location it is today by gradually purchasing adjacent properties in the building. A farm in Homestead houses their breeding collection.
“One of our principle values is to do things from the birds’ point of view — from their needs,” he said. “If you want to have decoration, go buy adornments. These are living beings and they last a long time. It’s a long-term commitment, and part of our job is to raise the healthiest birds we’re able to in captivity.”
Healthiness, physically and psychologically, is a top priority at Simbad’s. Every prospective pet at the store is fed an almost exclusively organic diet, all are bottle fed while nursing and the birds are socialized, both with the store’s diverse staff and with other species of birds, ensuring they’re welladjusted once adopted.
“We also have two cats running around the store, plus a lot of dogs at the farm, so from the get-go they’re used to having other animals around,” he said. “I think we raise not only healthy but emotionally stable birds.”
For the Onas, the bird business truly is a labor of love. Just by watching them mingle with their clientele, many with whom they’ve developed friendships, it’s easy to become excited along with them; their passion is contagious.
“The nice part about it is that I don’t see it as work because I enjoy coming here,” he said. “It’s wonderful. I get to make a living doing something I really enjoy, which is hanging out with all of these guys. It’s amazing. They never cease to amaze me. They’re intelligent. Their associative and speaking skills are incredible. You cannot be depressed around them because it’s pure happiness. I like to think we sell happiness dressed in feathers.”
Simbad’s Birds and Pets is located 7201 SW 40 St. For more information, call 305- 262-6077 or visit simbadsbirds.com.