Here on Long Island we have a lot of family owned businesses and some have been around for a very long time. The Smith family in particular happens to be one of the coolest and successfully run family businesses on Long Island with a store unlike any other. We are talking about Jungle Bob’s Reptile World located in Centereach.
Robert H. Smith (a.k.a Jungle Bob) was six years old when he moved from the big city of Manhattan to a suburban town on Long Island known as West Babylon. Robert was a kid who loved to explore and one day in the early 1960’s the “city kid” became known in his new neighborhood for picking up a snake. He not only picked up the snake but the garter snake he picked up bit him between his thumb and pointer finger. The scar that he had for a short while enhanced his snake encounter story and made the kids intrigued about getting to know the city kid who picks up snakes.
Now, over 5 decades later everyone on Long Island wants to know about that man with the snake, cuban iguana, bearded dragon and entire reptile store filled with domestic and exotic reptiles. Robert the city kid who picks up snakes is now known as Jungle Bob Smith and his two sons Tyler (25), and Dylan (23) are running their successful family business while educating their patrons in their store located on Middle Country Road in Centereach, NY together since 2008 with a wonderful and passionate staff by their side.
When it comes to Reptiles the Smith family not only can educate you but their love and passion for what they do is very prevalent when you are around them.
Question 1: How it is working with your dad on a day to day as well as one another and having a family business?
Tyler said, “the family business aspect is a tricky one of course. We have our days that we are ready to scream at each other. But ultimately, it’s good that we can take our lifelong hobby/passion and make a career out of it together. Keeping the money in the family helps a lot too.
Dylan’s response to my question was, “to me working in a family business is rewarding because I know the effort I put in will not only help me but everyone in the family. I could work just as hard at another job and earn myself just as much money if not a bit more, but it would all be going to benefit some other person I may or may not know or like somewhere down the chain. We all work to help customers as best we can or make the store more clean or fun or bigger in order to share in the success this effort can bring, which is an entirely different mentality and sentiment to doing those things just for a paycheck.”
I then asked Bob the same question about how it is working with family. His response was, “these days any small business is a challenge and one of the biggest is managing personnel . I am blessed with having a dedicated and knowledgable staff which is anchored by my two sons. They know their stuff and have been taking care of animals together for twenty plus years. Still parent/employer is a dual role with a sometimes slippery slope which makes reminding them to” pick up their room ” has taken on new meaning as it is much more significant now . Every parent knows that drill but when it applies to your professional life it is now your livelihood and it is more than a parental directive. But, I wouldn’t change it for the world though as everyday I understand this is a unique moment in all three of our lives and regardless of the day to day headaches /disagreements and personality clashes it will be looked back on the great time that it is.”
The first Smith Family reptile was a 6 foot Leucistic Rat Snake named Whitey. Whitey was named by Tyler who named him whitey because he was pure white. You have to love the names kids come up with for their pets but the logic of why they name them the ones they do is on point and makes the most sense (sometimes).
Tyler spoke about how Whitey was his favorite pet growing up. “Not the most common pet snake, especially for a 6 year old. Most of my close friends still remember Whitey as the first snake they ever saw in person and were able to feel and touch. I had numerous favorites over the years, but Whitey was by far number one.”
Bob had told me that, “after Whitey there were other pets named Reddy and Bluey and as the kids got older then the kids would name them Rojo and Azul since the reptiles were from countries that spoke Spanish.”
Mallory recalls that her favorite pet growing up was, “Godzilla. He was a 6 foot long green iguana that we was rescued from his life in a 20 gallon tank at a pet store. My dad built a walk-in enclosure with great branches for him to climb. Once, he escaped and we found him outside my bedroom window.”
The Smith kids were always willing to help their dad even at young ages and have a reptile encounter with smiles on their faces.
Before Bob walked around in his own store with jeans, t-shirt and jungle hat he was a corporate man who wore a suit and tie. But, even that man in the suit and tie could not keep away from his passion and for his love of reptiles. Bob told me with a huge smile on his face that any opportunity he could get he would visit his three kids at school in their classrooms and bring their family reptiles. The youngest of the Smith family is Mallory who will be turning 19 years old at the end of the summer and I asked her some Smith family questions, as well.
Question 2: What is the memory that stuck out the most about having your dad doing reptile presentations at school?
“I always enjoyed seeing how much fun the class had when the animals came in. Especially when I was young I would sometimes forget how unique it was to have all these animals in the house since I saw them every day…
Tyler,“I remember when my Dad first brought our pet reptiles to my 1st Grade class at Norwood Ave Elementary School. I was only 6 at the time. All my friends and classmates were so surprised that we were keeping all these animals at our house. To be honest I am not sure how much learning actually went on, but it was so cool watching my friends react to all of them, whether it was excitement or fear or both. I felt that they all had a new respect for me after that.”
Dylan responded by saying, “I always enjoyed seeing how much fun the class had when the animals came in. Especially when I was young I would sometimes forget how unique it was to have all these animals in the house since I saw them every day, but seeing the shocked and amazed faces on my friends reminded me how cool and different it was. Everyone in the class was so excited when my dad came in, I only felt bad because they only let us show my class every year so sometimes even my close friends missed out in other classes. Most other kids thought it was weird to have so many reptiles in the house but also thought it was cool and wanted to come see them all. Some of the more memorable parts of these experiences were the reactions and sentiments of the teachers and other adults involved. Even in 1st grade I was teaching the teachers about reptiles and they would defer to me if they were unsure of something involving animals in general. The librarian in my elementary school was so baffled when I told her different facts like how the strange Pipa Pipa toad carries eggs in its back that she asked me questions every chance she got until I graduated. Looking back on it the whole scenario was equal parts empowering that I was able to teach so many people, funny that I was so young teaching educated adults, and terrifying how little most educators knew about these animals (and what they “knew” was often incorrect on top of it).”
Mallory felt, “It was great when Dad brought our most unusual pets to my classes. Everyone had dogs, cats, fish, and guinea pigs. My house was filled with snakes, lizards, frogs and the occasional scorpion.”
Question 3: The first “WILD SMITH FAMILY TRIP” was to…
Dylan, “I was in 3rd grade when my dad, brother and I made our first international trip together to Costa Rica. It was an amazing trip that was almost surreal at certain points and a bit difficult as I was an extremely picky eater when I was young. Luckily we found enough papas fritas(French fries) and jugo de manzana (apple juice) to keep me alive and I was able to experience a true primary tropical rainforest firsthand for the first time in my life. We hiked and found many of the animals that we had read about and in some cases had as pets in their natural habitat. A favorite memory was on a rainy night we walked around the jungle lodge catching the many giant marine toads (we called them “bufos” from the scientific name) that were hoping around. We ended up keeping them in the shower stall of our room and in total caught over 20 of them, then took some pictures and released them shortly after.
Tyler, “We went to Costa Rica for a week and saw so many different types of animals I can’t even remember them all. We traveled around most of the country and got to stay at some very nice jungle hotels.”
Mallory, “I don’t remember too much, but that it was amazing. We hiked and looked for animals.”
Jungle Bob told me, “My first trip was in 1994 but, a few years later the three of us took the famous “testosterone trip” meaning no females accompanied us . We had many a memorable moment catching snakes and experience wildlife but if we had to vote … Having ice cream for breakfast , taking it with us in the 100 degree heat and watching it melt all over us in the car had to be right up there. Dylan looked like human ice cream cone as it melted so fast we barely got to eat any but we did and although we knew it wasn’t the most nutritious or appropriate breakfast we were on an adventure we were bad! And it felt soooooo good. He recommends that you should try it one day!”
Question 4: Your most memorable reptile encounter?
…I felt a sharp pain in my leg and knew something had bit me
Jungle Bob, “after 51 trips abroad and countless domestic outings in search of reptiles this quest ok made me think a long time … Eastern diamondback in the Everglades? Anaconda in the Amazon? Huge crocodile in Costa Rica? I should make a Jungle Bob top ten and if I did catching an African rock Python in Botswana Africa would be at the top it was high in a tree and I had to climb and get it. Our guide who encountered lions in his daily work was petrified of snakes and thought I was nuts. But, I had to get it. On the way right before reaching my prize I felt a sharp pain in my leg and knew something had bit me another snake perhaps? Then I felt another and another and saw that I had crossed over a trail of army ants of some kind that attached to me in unison. I had two choices forget the snake and jump down or catch him. I got him! Paying a painful price but the smile on face when taking the picture said it all. Like everything we catch it was immediately released back into the tree.
Tyler, “One of the most amazing animal encounters I have had was a few years ago, at our old location across the street. We had a visit from our buddy Urban Tarzan. He brought some wild and not so friendly animals to do a show with us. The one that really blew my mind was “Lilly” his 23ft long, 230lb Reticulated Python. Luckily she was a very docile and slow moving snake, but it took Tarzan, my dad, myself, and another helper just to lift her up. She still moved wherever she wanted and it was quite a workout!”
Dylan, “One encounter I will never forget was when we first brought home “Big Joe” our Asian Water Monitor Lizard. He was about 6 feet long at the time (over 8 feet and almost 100 pounds when we finally gave him up) and quite friendly when we first got him home, but after he warmed up in his enclosure he showed a bit more of a wild side. We came back and found a hole ripped through an apparent weak spot and the ceiling tiles moved slightly. We cautiously looked up to see he had broken out and decided to hide in the ceiling, and only with food were we able to convince him to come out. I vividly remember this because of how amazed I was as to how strong and intelligent he was, and how greatly we underestimated his abilities.
Question 5: What is something that not everyone knows about Jungle Bob?
“Jungle Bob loves basketball …
Tyler, “Reptiles aren’t the only passion I’ve inherited from my dad. He also brought me up as a knicks, mets, and jets fan….thanks a lot dad! He turned me on to a lot of the music I still love today, guns n roses, queen, green day are the ones that come to mind first. These bands always bring up fond memories of riding in the car with him on the way to baseball and basketball games, of which he was the coach most years as well.”
Dylan, “Jungle Bob loves basketball and has one of the best mid-range jump shots around.”
Mallory, “My Dad has very intense wanderlust and is always planning trips and ready to go on any kind of adventure. That’s something we have in common, we’ve traveled a lot together.
The one thing everyone does know about Jungle Bob is his love for Castro!
When talking about Castro, Bob mentioned, “Castro the Cuban Rock Iguana is not only our favorite reptile he has become a mascot for the store a good will ambassador for the reptile industry. His picture will be on some of our jungle Bob brand product and rightfully so as he has done as much as any of us in dispelling the myths about reptile to the general public.
Tyler, ” he will be 17 Years old this month! He is the friendliest, most docile, least aggressive animal that I’ve ever met (dogs and cats included).
Question 6: What is next for Jungle Bob’s ?
Tyler, “There are always a ton of things going on here, as we are always looking for the next big thing to add to our business. Right now the biggest topic is our very own brand of products. As of now we have lightbulbs (more to come), water and food bowls, and a nice assortment of decorations like ledges, caves, different kinds of moss and various other things. We are very excited to have the products and hope to grow to sell them to stores all over the country soon!
Dylan, “More and more products will be available with the jungle bob name, hopefully in more and more store. So even if you can’t get to our store you can find reptile products you know are tested and recommended by us!
Bob is so excited about his new product line and he should be. It is exciting and the line of Jungle Bob Products come out this month. (July 2015) This is another wonderful addition to their business and their product line will consist of a little over 40 products to start, all with their own Jungle Bob label you can see below.
See the products they offer —> Website click here
Examples below courtesy of Jungle Bob’s Reptile World:
As you can tell from reading this article the Smith Family and the man we know as Jungle Bob Smith own a business together and each have a WILD SIDE. But, first and foremost they are the Smith family with lots of memories that have molded them into the business men they are today. After reading this article you can tell that even with something as stressful as a family business the love for one another has not faded in fact, I think it has gotten stronger. I wish the Smith family the continued success they have in a family business they all have passion for.
Momee Friends of Long Island is a supporter of Jungle Bob’s Reptile World and have chosen them as one of our Bright Pics for standing out in our community!
2536 Middle Country Rd Centereach, NY 11720