By Nick Ogden 
BELLEVILLE – Things in downtown Belleville are about to get a lot more exotic with the opening of a new pet shop.
Tyrannosaurus Pets , at 296 Front St., will be making its grand opening this Saturday with a day-long celebration including a raffle with prizes.
Owner Marc Cunningham says returning to the area after running a pet store in Ottawa  was an easy choice. He got a lease at the Front Street location for a great price because of construction due to the revitalization of the downtown core.
Cunningham, who has had tremendous success running pet stores, starting with Hamilton Reptile  in Hamilton as well as a store in Ottawa, has had a passion for animals from a young age.
“I’ve always loved pets. I’ve always said I was going to do something with pets. When I was a little kid my dad always would tell me, ‘Marc you gotta get rid of those pets. You’re never going to make money doing anything with pets,’ so I had to prove my dad wrong of course,” he said.
He said he started breeding reptiles at the age 12.
“As soon as I was able to open up a lemonade stand and use the money from the stand to buy my first few animals I started breeding them and selling those ones. Then I used the money from selling the babies to buy more animals and it kind of built up from that,” said Cunningham.
By 16, he had an online store and by 19 he opened his first store in Hamilton. His journey to prove his dad wrong began there.
“About four months into my first store I had (his dad) come down and I just handed him a pile of cheques from all of the birthday parties and stuff that I did and said ‘Dad I’m making money from animals.’ ”
His dad passed away after he opened a store with two business partners in Ottawa last year. He said he knows his dad would be proud of his success. “I know he was really proud after the first store in Hamilton. He changed his tune. We had a long discussion about how I was right and should have chased my dreams.”
Even though Cunningham is the sole owner of Tyrannosaurus Pets, the formation of the business was a family effort. He said his four-year-old daughter Elizabeth inspired the unusual name. “She loved dinosaurs, she loves saying T-Rex, so she said T-Rex to me enough times I started saying T-Pets and it came to me.”
He said he did his research before making the move and discovered that there was a market for exotic animals in Belleville. “I think it’s really needed in Belleville. Just based on the people I know that I used to sell to in Belleville and in Trenton and the whole area here. There’s nothing really like it. There’s a few stores that do sell reptiles but they don’t really have the expertise that we’re gonna have or the selection. So it’s very different, it’s a great niche to be in. I know that there’s a market here.”
Mike Malachowski, the vice-chair of the Belleville Downtown Improvement Area , said that Tyrannosaurus Pets will be a welcomed addition to the downtown core.
“I’ve met the folks and I really have to say I get a sense that they have a clear understanding of their business. They’ve done it before, they’ve been successful. They’re new to Belleville, so it’s great to see younger entrepreneurs moving in.”
Malachowski, who has been the vice-chair for four years, said that the downtown improvement area has helped him realize how important local business is to Belleville. “By forming a business improvement area we realize that we’re all in it together to be successful. Having (Tyrannosaurus Pets) as a part of it is one more pair of oars in the water pulling towards the goal line.”
He added that because of the revitalization projects happening, downtown will be much more attractive for the community.
“We’re setting the stage for a pedestrian-oriented environment, a residential growth with the downtown, and specialty shops like Tyrannosaurus Pets that are doing unique things that you’re not going to find everywhere.”
Cunningham said he decided to move closer to his family to take care of them after the passing of his father. He said he plans on staying in Belleville for a long time. “I plan on doing this the rest of my life. I plan on being here for the rest of my life. This is it for me.”
The shop will be selling a variety of merchandise for pets ranging from cats and dogs to reptiles and amphibians.