What do you look for in a LFS? Good, bad, and ugly...

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I have a couple close to me that are decent. What I look for:

1. A decent display tank. If they an maintain a nice display tank with corals for more than a few weeks, they most likely understand what is the appropriate methods and have the possibility of applying this to their sales tanks.
2. They sell more than clown fish and invertebrates. If this is all they sell, then I would debate if they have the skill set to maintain a thriving ecosystem.
3. No dino outbreaks. I know these are hard to control perfectly..but if you are in there and they have dinos they are not paying close enough attention plus you will be importing dinos into your system.
4. No dead fish anywhere. I know this is obvious and you cant help dead and dying fish..but you can at least quarantine your sick fish in quarantine so that you are not sharing water. Plus, if you have dead fish in your tanks and your workers are just doing shelf stocking...I dont think they are paying enough attention to what matters.
5. Finally, a 'not for sale' rack of tanks. Be it quarantine, hospital, or just 'new arrivals', this to me is actually the most important thing. This tells me that the owner has a level of quality expectations that they pass on to their clients. Selling new fish that they just got in the other day means there is no accountability.
This ^. Plus I make sure there's no aphasia or visible pests like bristle worms or flat worms.

I live in a very large city, one of the top 10 largest in the US, and am lucky enough to have a dedicated coral shop 15 minutes from me that is absolutely amazing and a general lfs that stocks almost everything. However, if you were to go edge to edge of the city you'll only find that 6 out of the 47 "lfs" stores I've visited, all within a 4 month time span to help reduce any variations, are actually worthy of spending money at. The rest of them ranged from more simple aphasia and a few noticeable pests to absolutely horrid. Not joking here, about half of them had multiple dead fish in the tanks; multiple fish with glazed over eyes like they were blind or something; tons of ick and other parasites; aphasia all over frag tanks; dinos in most tanks and especially in the invert tanks; they reeked of rotten fish and algae... the list goes on. So, like others have said, it's hard to find good "lfs" and if your only good one is like 3 hours away then just make the drive.

I've never ordered online, but plan to this year. My plan is simple, just stick to well known and reputable places like BIOTA or something. (I'm getting a mated pair of Mandarins finally :cool: )
 
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I generally look for at least 3 things:

1. Knowledge of the employees
2. Condition of the tanks/inhabitants
3. Type/quality of livestock that's carried
 

Grumblez

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Depending on where you are located your LFS options may be fairly limited. I have two or three within 15 minutes driving distance from me and another maybe an hour away. They all have their pros and cons depending on what you are looking for. One of them has many tanks infested with aiptasia and bubble algae, the second has a ton of GHA, and the third one I wouldn't buy anything there with my worst enemy's money (obvious signs of disease in most of the fish, predatory business tactics and in general just a shady place).

I know the 3 stores you speak off haha. The problem is number 3 if you're in a tight spot and need a decent heater or other hard good in a hurry the other 2 are very limited in terms of hardgoods.

To respond to OP I primarly judge a LFS on 2 things.
- The frag tanks, ignore there fish only tanks that may or may not be overrun with algae and various aptasia etc. The frag tanks should be 90% clean off GHA/Bubble algae etc for me to feel comftorable.
- In fish tanks I just look for obvious signs of disease etc don't hesitate to ask places how and if they quarantine fish. It's not something I expect from a LFS but a nice bonus if they have a good regimen.

Also I love buying fresh clippings from places. I like putting frags on my own plug because lots of your pests/problem algae are gonna come from the plug. I guess if I was buying some sort of ultra highend SPS or something I would be more concerned
 
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amygetsalife

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I know the 3 stores you speak off haha. The problem is number 3 if you're in a tight spot and need a decent heater or other hard good in a hurry the other 2 are very limited in terms of hardgoods.

To respond to OP I primarly judge a LFS on 2 things.
- The frag tanks, ignore there fish only tanks that may or may not be overrun with algae and various aptasia etc. The frag tanks should be 90% clean off GHA/Bubble algae etc for me to feel comftorable.
- In fish tanks I just look for obvious signs of disease etc don't hesitate to ask places how and if they quarantine fish. It's not something I expect from a LFS but a nice bonus if they have a good regimen.

Also I love buying fresh clippings from places. I like putting frags on my own plug because lots of your pests/problem algae are gonna come from the plug. I guess if I was buying some sort of ultra highend SPS or something I would be more concerned
Thanks! Especially your take on those three shops (as I've visited 2 of them) and feedback on fresh clippings of coal.
 
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Rare fish, good prices, not stupid made up names for corals.

All the LFS around here seem to keep their coral tanks looking clean so idk… if it has a pest.. that is ok cuz I QT everything anyways.

Of my fave LFS, the advice I overhear them give beginners is pretty good too.
 

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New to the hobby and checking out my local or local-ish fish shops/pet stores/etc. I have not been impressed. Maybe I'm being too critical? Looking at beautiful pictures online, which are carefully chosen and the shots framed just so, maybe has set up unrealistic expectations?

I understand that algae can happen to anyone and it can take a while to get it under control, and for herbivore fish, they need some to be happy, but shouldn't it look like someone is trying to control it? Especially around frags?

Aptasia... Yeah...it's there because they sell Aptasia eating file fish....:rolleyes:...OK. How many tanks should be prepped and "ready for file fish"? All of them? Only about half of them? None of them? Maybe 2 of them?

Maintenance of tanks and shop? I thought they'd be kept clean and presentable. Silly me. I am pretty sure that a discussion before one of the shops I visited was opened was, "get all your nasty fish tanks out of the basement or I'm leaving!" It had an amazing amount of diversity and big specimens, but there were more 'mature' display tanks than your typical sale tanks and the display tanks seems to be a frag on demand kind of thing. Is that good? Normal? Like picking produce straight from the farm? I read somewhere that you wanted to see some growth on the frag plugs before buying? The newest display tank was gorgeous, but the rest?! Skimmer cups overflowing, was trying to figure out what I was looking at in one tank to realize that the 3 inch oval shape was one of the return pump outlets coated in....well...some of it was coraline algae. Not sure what was growing out of it above the waterline....

I have yet to buy livestock online, but may I'll need to. I definitely feel good about the extra spending on quarantine tanks now, but I don't want to buy knowing that they need quarantined. I was less horrified by the tanks at Petco which were obviously in the midst of the ugly stage with dinos, slimes, etc. Though I saw less algae and aptasia there than in some of the shops. But I didn't expect much out of them and won't buy livestock there. I want to support local.

What do you look for in a good shop? What makes you walk out and say, NOPE? What do you overlook as a trade off for local and nearby? Maybe I'm just in a bad area for this.

Pictures would be awesome. Who has a small local shop (in the US) that does a great job AND they sell online with good outcomes?


Having worked in an lfs for years, here is what to look for:


Pests: It is not reasonable to assume an lfs will not have any pests, but they key is how hard they work to remove them. If you can spot an aiptasia or similar (vermatids is another good one, as well as bubble algae) on a frag within a few minutes, I guarantee you the employees have seen it. If they are actively removing them, or remove it as soon as you point it out, that is a good sign. If they ignore pests that are very obvious, that is bad.


Fish: Are fish housed with appropriate tank mates, do you see any flukes on them, scarring, etc.? What do they feed the fish (a healthy diet vs something simply like brine shrimp). Do they run copper? At what ppm?


Corals: Are there any dead pieces? Any not well extended? Look for certain types of corals not doing well. An occasional piece or two gone bad isn't a big deal, but if they struggle with certain types, they may not be a good resource for information.


Products: Do they carry quality products, or cheap knock offs? Do they seem like hobbyists who knows what products are good, or simply what is cheap for them?


Algae: Is algae very prevalent in very easy to clean spots? Do you see frags smothered in algae? This is a sign of poor understanding of what the algae is or what causes it, or they are lazy. Can you visibly spot lots of bubble algae or bryopsis?


These are some easier one's. Others that are more difficult would be things like cross contamination of nets with sick or dead fish, hidden infestations, ich in non copper systems, employees who give the wrong advice, etc..
 

muzikalmatt

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I know the 3 stores you speak off haha. The problem is number 3 if you're in a tight spot and need a decent heater or other hard good in a hurry the other 2 are very limited in terms of hardgoods.

To respond to OP I primarly judge a LFS on 2 things.
- The frag tanks, ignore there fish only tanks that may or may not be overrun with algae and various aptasia etc. The frag tanks should be 90% clean off GHA/Bubble algae etc for me to feel comftorable.
- In fish tanks I just look for obvious signs of disease etc don't hesitate to ask places how and if they quarantine fish. It's not something I expect from a LFS but a nice bonus if they have a good regimen.

Also I love buying fresh clippings from places. I like putting frags on my own plug because lots of your pests/problem algae are gonna come from the plug. I guess if I was buying some sort of ultra highend SPS or something I would be more concerned
Cool you're from Roanoke too! Yeah, it's a shame that the "exotic" LFS isn't managed better as it's like 5 minutes from my house while the other two stores are at least 15 minutes away. You're right though, they definitely have more dry goods which initially I wouldn't mind purchasing from them except for recent events. :(

Justin at Ultimate Aquariums and Brian at Alien Aquatics are both good owners though and I try to support them as much as I can. Justin helped get me into the hobby and was great about answering all of my questions as I was getting started.

I'm noticing more and more reefers here on Reef2Reef from Roanoke and the surrounding areas. It'd be cool if we could get the SWVA Reef Club active again!
 

Olefreebe

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45 minutes to the nearest one and no it is not like all the pretty pictures online. You choose your battles I guess. I prefer to buy from local businesses and Mom and Pop stores but honestly most of my purchases have been online for my reef tank.
 

Grumblez

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Thanks! Especially your take on those three shops (as I've visited 2 of them) and feedback on fresh clippings of coal.
Hello fellow Roanoakian. Yes Alien Aquatics definetly has " "get all your nasty fish tanks out of the basement or I'm leaving!" Vibes lol.

Edit not alien aquatics while grundgy not as grundgy as ultimate Aquariums

Richmond has several stores as well although I haven't visted them yet theres a frag swap going on up there the 12th I'm probably gonna go to.

Theres also several local facebook groups that I've gotten about half my corals from. Half the price or less of normal fish store prices.
 
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Paul B

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I basically look for one thing. A front door. If the place has a door on it, I walk in. I don't care what the place looks like because I am not going to live there. I also don't want any advice and would rather they don't try to give me any unless is about how to style my hair.

I don't want pre-quarantined fish whatever that means.
If they have interesting livestock, I'm good.

I don't care about parasites because I know, that you know, that I know that all fish have parasites. :oops:

We don't see many of them in a store due to copper, unless of course most of the fish are dead. Then I ask for a discount and usually get it.

Many times I get fish for free because the owner feels they will croak that night. Sometimes they do, many times they do not and just are looking sick to fool or spite the owner because he is feeding them frozen brine shrimp that he left out on the counter since last Tuesday and is wondering why his fish are sick. :rolleyes:

These places don't make a lot of money and I have yet to see any Mercedes parked outside. Normally the owner has a rusted out 1979 Oldsmobile station wagon with a faded bumper sticker that reads "I climbed Mount Rushmore" on the back and duct tape painted red over the left rear tail light.

He may also have a sticker on the rear window that says:

"My son is an Honor Student" even though his son is now a Grand Father who doesn't even keep gold fish. :cool:

 
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amygetsalife

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I basically look for one thing. A front door. If the place has a door on it, I walk in. I don't care what the place looks like because I am not going to live there. I also don't want any advice and would rather they don't try to give me any unless is about how to style my hair.

I don't want pre-quarantined fish whatever that means.
If they have interesting livestock, I'm good.

I don't care about parasites because I know, that you know, that I know that all fish have parasites. :oops:

We don't see many of them in a store due to copper, unless of course most of the fish are dead. Then I ask for a discount and usually get it.

Many times I get fish for free because the owner feels they will croak that night. Sometimes they do, many times they do not and just are looking sick to fool or spite the owner because he is feeding them frozen brine shrimp that he left out on the counter since last Tuesday and is wondering why his fish are sick. :rolleyes:

These places don't make a lot of money and I have yet to see any Mercedes parked outside. Normally the owner has a rusted out 1979 Oldsmobile station wagon with a faded bumper sticker that reads "I climbed Mount Rushmore" on the back and duct tape painted red over the left rear tail light.

He may also have a sticker on the rear window that says:

"My son is an Honor Student" even though his son is now a Grand Father who doesn't even keep gold fish. :cool:

Ah....but Paul B, you are a master reefer with a tank full of diversity and I am but a lowly newbie with a tank of "life rock" dead sand, bottle bac, copepods, plankton when I pour it in, 4 cerith snails, 3turbo snails, sea lettuce in an in tank refugium, a bit of algae, a sprinkling of diatoms, and a partridge in a Kenya tree...

You have said in your book that if you were starting for the first time now, that you would quarantine. I'm my organic farming days, I was much like you: as diverse an ecosystem as I could create with literally tons of microbe laden compost, crop rotation, habitat for beneficials, etc.

I'm heading to Florida for business in a week and torn between heading to the beach to see what I could pilfer and going to WWC for captive raised whatever.

As to the local fish shop, it's literally next to my shop! Definitely no expensive car in their parking spot, or mine for that matter. They have a new person maintaining their tanks and it's much better than when I first posted. Plus all the responses here have helped me form a better idea of what I'm getting into. So thanks!
 

TheMantisReefer

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I have 3 types near me The Good, The Bad and the Ugly.

I try to avoid those that try to sell everything, birds, snakes, turtles, fresh and saltwater...
These stores more often than not are just trying to turn a buck and usually the animals in their care suffer.
The second type are the big box stores that make money off of dry goods but sell fish as a side gig.
The third store are those stores that cater to fish goods and animals and know what they have, how to care for them and can express their knowledge to you about a number of hobby related issues.
The last tend to be the best but also the most expensive.

Choose wisely.
I go to school in Virginia and 15 minutes from me is a pet store called PAW. It sells the whole works. Puppies, reptiles, rodents, other mammals, and fish. I really like the fish section though. It is the whole bottom floor of the store and has a large saltwater and large freshwater selection. They have dedicated staff that just work the fish part and have great selections of hardware and fish and have a great rewards program. Although they do have tanks with aptasia I still shop there and like it there. It’s hard to avoid aptasia when you have thousands of gallons of tanks and new shipments coming multiple times a week and so on. They do work to isolate tanks that get them.
 
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amygetsalife

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I go to school in Virginia and 15 minutes from me is a pet store called PAW. It sells the whole works. Puppies, reptiles, rodents, other mammals, and fish. I really like the fish section though. It is the whole bottom floor of the store and has a large saltwater and large freshwater selection. They have dedicated staff that just work the fish part and have great selections of hardware and fish and have a great rewards program. Although they do have tanks with aptasia I still shop there and like it there. It’s hard to avoid aptasia when you have thousands of gallons of tanks and new shipments coming multiple times a week and so on. They do work to isolate tanks that get them.
Yay! I was hoping to hear someone's opinion of their shop, as we are their neighbors.

As I mentioned earlier, I think we got interested in reefing as they were having an employee issue. The tanks look so much better in the last 3-4 weeks!

We've gotten our display tank there as well as a ton of equipment. But when their tanks were overrun, I was concerned that we wouldn't want to get livestock there.

There are several people in the fish section that have been super helpful.
 
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Paul B

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amygetsalife. I think I said in my book, or I wanted to say that if I started a new tank with new ASW and dry rock I would quarantine. But I would never start a tank that way. :p


But thanks for reading my book. Some day I will read it again to see what I wrote or what I should have wrote. :)
 

TheMantisReefer

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Yay! I was hoping to hear someone's opinion of their shop, as we are their neighbors.

As I mentioned earlier, I think we got interested in reefing as they were having an employee issue. The tanks look so much better in the last 3-4 weeks!

We've gotten our display tank there as well as a ton of equipment. But when their tanks were overrun, I was concerned that we wouldn't want to get livestock there.

There are several people in the fish section that have been super helpful.
Oh you were talking about PAW on Wards Rd? Yeah they definitely could do better but it works for me. I’ve only shopped there since I’ve gotten into reefing (except some live rock and a mantis shrimp that I got both online) and I’ve been satisfied. I’ve gotten coral there a year ago and it never transferred aptasia or anything even though I did see some aptasia on that tank (very little though) and I never dipped so no complaints really. My experience with the staff has always been positive and I love the discounts. Need a new light so I’m gonna get a kessil a80 tomorrow and for being a VIP member I get $20 off! But there is one nice car that’s always there. I think the owner drives a Tesla.
 

TnFishwater98

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For me to buy local I look for clean tanks without any pests in the tank. Around me there are no reef shops so to go to any brick and mortar store I have to travel. There is one in Charlotte, NC which is about a 10 hour round trip for me that I have absolutely fell in love with. Their tanks are always clean and I have never seen a pest in any of their tanks. Their corals and fish always look healthy and their prices are good. I've been to many lfs in Ohio, Pennsylvania, and the Carolinas and it is by far my favorite. I've never been to any in Virginia but from reading online none sounded all that impressive.

Here is a link to the shop I prefer, they do ship corals but Ive never ordered online from them. Although the corals listed on their website only make up about 1/3 of their coral tanks.


Here is a picture I found on their Facebook page of one of their growout tanks. I can't say enough positive things about them. No other lfs I've been to compares. I'm willing to make the 10 hour trip to go to this store if that says anything about how well I like them.
FB_IMG_1640294539694.jpg
10 hour rd trip..! That’s dedication!
 

Gtinnel

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10 hour rd trip..! That’s dedication!
It's a really nice store and the prices are good too. Plus I would have to travel close to that distance to go to any halfway decent lfs. My wife and I like to take weekend trips so we just find things to do in that area when we go.
 

TnFishwater98

Drink more fishwater there! And I still want more!
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It's a really nice store and the prices are good too. Plus I would have to travel close to that distance to go to any halfway decent lfs. My wife and I like to take weekend trips so we just find things to do in that area when we go.
I thought taking the long way home after dropping kids off with grandparents 2.5 hours away to hit up a LFS proved I was a complete addict…LOL
 
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