Ok, i'll start this off with a story. I have always hated petsmart ever since i came to this forum since i learned everything differently here rather than at petsmart, and obviously here sounds more right. Well to me, i thought it was the only place i had and i bought fish there. Well after driving to my sisters school one day i saw a local pet store that had fish as well. Wow, if you ever want to see a nice planted tank, come visit there. It had some of the best plants for sale. I really liked this place since the fish seemed healthy as well. The main problem there was the price. Ghost shrimp that go for a dollar? Neon tetras for 2.99 each (they were neons, not cardinals), well it was expensive but better than petsmart, it also had very knowledgeable staff and a huge reptile section. Using a link that i found on this forum i found a fish store that specializes in only fish. My god if you like saltwater tank, you will like that place. Corals, dozens and dozens of corals, from anemones to softies, from hermit crabs to lobsters as big as your head, from feeder guppies to marble sharks. It is a monster store that had tanks that look better than home tanks. There were a total of 5 indoor ponds, a 1000 gallon pond with turtles, a 500 gallon reef pond with lots of corals and anemones, a 50 gallon feeder goldfish pond, a 100 gallon live rock pond, and the 2000 gallon shark pond. It is the greatest fish store i have ever seen. I was just disappointed that i didnt find it sooner.
Well enough about me, more about you now. Im sure many of you dont like those big name retailers like petsmart, petco, petland etc but just cant find a good lfs, well here are my tips on finding a good one.
First look on websites and write down the addresses of all the fish stores near you. Next plan a day or two where you will go to each one of these.
Second, make a list of the things you need to see there.
1. Using a midpoint fish store that you have now and place it on a -10 to 10 ratio. Place the store where you think it goes, my petsmart for example lies somewhere at -5, my petco lies at -9, petland -9.5, petco2 3, petsmart2 -5, wilmette pet 7, thee fish bowl 6, and my lfs Old Orchard Aquarium 9.5. You dont have to write it down as long as you have good memory. Each store you go to, start with 0 and add and subtract the following
2. Sick fish test
Check each and every tank and look out for diseases, each fish you see that has a disease, lower the lfs rating by .25, if a tank that says "sick fish not for sale" you dont need to do anything with points.
2.1 Dead fish test
Every dead fish you see lower 1 point, if you see a dead fish, tell the staff, if they go and take it away immediatly or when there finished with a customer, then give them back the point, if they say, ok just wait a moment, then keep the point lost.
2.2 Staff tests
Make up a few questions that you know the answer too, a simple question like can an oscar fit in a 20 gallon tank (no). If the lfs answers wrong then they lose a point, if they answer right, then give them a point.
2.3 Money Grabbers or Helpers
Here is another make-up test. Pretend your fish has ich, then take some salt off the shelf and go up to the staff. Ask them if salt helps cure ich, if they say no and try to sell you medication no questions asked, then take away a point, if they say it might work or ask questions about the tank, then give them a point. Make sure you keep up the lie and dont say, "This was a test," since that makes them angry.
2.4 Food glorious food
find a fish with a strict diet, an oto is a good choice, then ask them what do you feed them. If the food they give them is wrong then they lose a point, if the food they give is right then give a point. An oto for example eats algae, if they feed the oto algae wafers or vegetable, or even live algae, then that is good, but if they feed it flakes or something, then that is bad. Ive seen petsmart staff put a few fish flakes in an oto tank.
Ask what filter do they use, if they have a HOB on every tank then thats great, if they have 1 HOB to take care of all tanks that is no good. Most good lfs have wet-dry bio filters to help with the large bio-load they have.
2.6 On your own
Its not hard to make up your own test, if you think it is logical, then give it to them.
Take a look at the whole store, what do you see, ugly tanks that has dying fish/plants/corals, or thriving fish. This determains the most points you give a store. Take the amount of points youve given and place it on your -10 to 10 scale. Keep this in mind
After you have rated every lfs, find the best one and voila, you have it :)
If a lfs is tied by points, do it by distance, the closer lfs to your home should be the main lfs. Compare the main lfs you've chosen to the one you have and then pick between the two.
I hope this helps you :D