by Robert W. Bly, founder, AquariumDetective.com
You probably have a number of stores in your area selling tropical fish and aquarium supplies. Which should get your business?
Proximity is a key factor. The store must be within 20 minutes driving distance, because fish can only survive comfortably in plastic bags for 20 to 30 minutes or so.
Do you have fish, lizards, or other pets that require live food? Look for a fish store that�s nearby. Otherwise, the weekly trip to replenish live food supplies can eat up a lot of your time.
You have 4 choices when it comes to shopping for fish, fish food, and aquarium supplies:
Although it's less common today, some large department stores have pet departments. These are usually poor choices for the dedicated hobbyist. Their selections are small, the specimens often in poor health, and the staff lacking knowledge of what they are selling.
General pet stores sell all kinds of pets: not just fish but birds, hamsters, kittens, ferrets, and puppies.
What pets does the store focus on? If it's puppies and kittens, you're probably better off going elsewhere.
On the other hand, some fish stores branch out into other pets, but obviously remain focused on fish and fish keeping. These stores can be a good place to buy.
The giant chain pet stores are discount-oriented, so they can potentially save you money.
That savings can be quickly offset by bad advice or sick fish.
At one chain, we bought a saltwater fish that turned out to be ill. The disease quickly spread and that $25 "bargain" fish cost me $300 to replace the other fish in my tank that got sick and died.
The staff at chain pet stores can be knowledgeable, although they rarely match the experience and in-depth knowledge of private pet stores.
In addition, the selections at chain pet stores are usually restricted to standard fish: barbs, tetras, neons, swordtails, gourami, catfish, and small cichlids.
I prefer to give my trade to non-chain local pet stores run by an owner who is also a dedicated hobbyist.
Although there prices may be a bit higher, the selection is larger, and the specimens are usually well-cared-for and healthy.
Pet stores run by an owner/hobbyist are most likely to stock interesting, unusual, and novelty fish you won't find in the pet store chains; e.g., arawana, blind cave fish, blue lobster, freshwater shrimp, red crabs, loaches.
The owners usually hire store clerks who are also hobbyists. Therefore, the knowledge of the salespeople in these stores is extremely high.
They can reliably tell you what fish can and can't get along with the fish already in your tank. They can guide you more accurately if you bring your completed fish log with you when buying new fish.
A good practice when bagging fish for sale is to shoot compressed oxygen or air into the bag to oxygenate the water so the fish can last longer during transport. Owner-operated fish stores always do this, but chains, pet stores, and department stores may not.
Here's how I divide my business among the fish stores in my area:
To sum up, here's what I look for in a fish store: