Having recently visited my local fish store (lfs), I thought I would comment on what, IMO, makes a good one (the photo above is not my local fish store, btw). At the end of the day, where you choose to purchase your fish is entirely up to you. Some hobbyists order online, some buy from their lfs, some buy from general pet stores. Pull back the curtain a bit at an lfs and you’ll figure out quickly who knows what they’re doing, who to trust, and who not to.
Here are some things to look for that, more often than not, suggest that an lfs takes good care of its fish.
- A uncluttered store
This might seem like a no-brainer, but stores should be easy to navigate w/o stumbling over merchandise that hasn’t been shelved. Sure, any lfs can be understaffed on any given day, but regularly having to step over or around products located on the floor or on carts suggests a lack of attention to detail.
- Staff that ask YOU questions and listen
A knowledgeable staff member will always ask you some questions when you seek their advice. Staff are there to match you with the right product as much as point you in the direction of their latest sale items. They should assist you in making informed decisions, especially if you’re a novice.
- Clean aquarium glass/acrylic
If you can’t see the fish because the glass/acrylic is dirty, shop elsewhere. A store that takes pride in the selection and health of its fish will exhibit that pride by having tanks you can actually see into. This is especially important for fish only pet stores. After all, they make a living selling only fish and products for fish.
- Tanks free of dead fish
Again, this one might seem like common sense, but spend some time going from tank to tank and count the number of dead/dying fish. Good stores have employees that perform a DFC (dead fish check) at regular intervals. Also, if you go into a store and never see a tank with fish that are being treated for something and have been removed from sale, beware. Good stores aren’t afraid to quarantine an entire tank when they discover something amiss. These stores will also indicate, on the tank itself, what the treatment regimen is.
- Fish in quarantine
Ask your lfs if they quarantine new fish. Reputable stores will often have a whole series of tanks hidden in back where they are treating single fish or groups of fish. Just the fact that they’re willing to invest in and maintain solitary quarantine/sick tanks is typically a good sign.
- Proper fish mix
Very often different fish will be mixed in a single tank. Nothing wrong with this as long as the mixed species are compatible. Keeping a couple of species of soft water tetras together is fine. Keeping adult Oscars with tetras isn’t. In fact, keeping some adult cichlids with juvenile cichlids isn’t always fine either. I once went into a pet store and discovered adult Oscars mixed in a tank with baby Oscars. The store owner didn’t realize this was problematic until I showed her one of the adult Oscars with the posterior of a baby oscar sticking out of its mouth.