What to Look for in a Good Saltwater Aquarium Store

The neighborhood aquarium store is where many hobbyists see their first reef tank and discover their passion for reefkeeping. Local shops are also an excellent source for the equipment we need to keep our tanks happy and healthy and the beautiful and healthy livestock that call our tanks home. However, many local fish stores are so much more than just where you buy your equipment, fish, and corals. They are also places where you can learn, grow, and build relationships with others in the hobby. Unfortunately, not all local fish stores are equal. Here’s how the best local shops set themselves apart from the rest.

Aquarium Store Organization & Cleanliness

Having an aquarium store that is clean and organized is a good indicator of a well-run shop. The general cleanliness of the shop should also give insights into how well they care for their livestock. Look for livestock tanks with clean walls with minimal algae on the glass and no dead fish or corals. Although it is difficult for a local store to carry the selection of online retailers, it is still essential that they have a quality assortment of crucial products like tanks, filtration, and lighting from reputable suppliers. The dry goods section should be well-organized and clean, and the pricing for each item should be transparent. The overall appearance of a shop’s showroom is one of the best indicators of the service and quality you can most likely expect.

Aquarium Store Organization & Cleanliness
Fish Store Selection

Aquarium Store Livestock

One of the most critical factors in determining the quality of a local store is the health of the livestock. The fish should be vibrant in color, their breathing should be consistent with the gills rising and falling in rhythm, their eyes should be clear, and their fins and bodies should not have any lesions, cuts, spots, or other damage. Healthy fish are also active and alert, and when fed, they should eat their food quickly and enthusiastically. The branches or polyps of corals should be fully extended and naturally move or sway in the water. A healthy LPS coral, for example, will look puffy. Avoid corals that are losing color or tissue or where most polyps are either retracted or very small.

With that said, don’t immediately dismiss a shop if they have an occasional sick fish or dying coral. Keeping livestock alive is challenging, and one dying coral or fish does not mean the shop isn’t high quality. Reefkeeping can be unforgiving, so we generally overlook the occasional livestock issue as long as the other livestock is healthy.

Aquarium Store Livestock
Customer Analyzing Livestock

Understand Their Quarantine Process

Quarantine is an essential process that fish stores should use to ensure their livestock is ready for aquarium life. Most local fish stores have a quarantine process for all of their livestock before it is made available for purchase. We suggest asking an employee about the quarantine process within their store before making a purchase. If they have a formal procedure, you can have confidence that your investment will adapt well to your system. It is also a good idea to find out about their coral dipping process to minimize the chance of pests. Even if a store dips their corals, we always recommend dipping again before adding them to your tank.

Understand Their Quarantine Process
Fish in Quarantine

Talk to the Employees

When identifying a quality local fish store, another consideration is building relationships with the store’s employees. Having a local store that you can walk into and talk shop is a great way to learn. A relationship with the folks working at your local store can provide helpful information on where your livestock comes from and tips and tricks for keeping that livestock happy and healthy. Local fish store employees are an excellent resource for answering any questions you may have, as most folks working in a fish shop are experienced hobbyists themselves.

Talk to the Employees
Employee Selecting Fish

Where Does Pricing Factor In?

The cost of livestock and equipment is another factor in determining the quality of your local fish store. On the one hand, you should generally expect to pay a little more for quality livestock that you can examine in person before purchase and, if needed, return in person. However, the local shop should not be ripping you off either. Before purchasing, figure out how much of a premium you are willing to pay to your local shop, in exchange, for the personal service and convenience you’ll receive.

Where Does Pricing Factor In?
Cost vs. Value Perspective

With these considerations in mind, you should have all the information you need to know what to look for in an aquarium store. For those living in an area without a quality local shop, quality equipment, livestock, and information is available online. If you have any questions about what to look for in a local fish store, please feel free to contact us.

For a list of great local fish stores in your area, feel free to explore our Store Locator.

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