Picking a good aquarium store is just as important as choosing a veterinarian for your dog or cat. You want to deal with staff that are friendly and professional, look at tanks that are clean, and see fish that are obviously happy and healthy. No one enjoys the trauma of walking into a smelly store, seeing numerous fish floating belly up, and dealing with an angry store owner. Follow these tips to ensure you have the most enjoyable fish purchasing time.

1. Ask Around
This is the number one tip for any shopping endeavor: Ask your friends. If they have a good experience they’ll be happy to share it with you. Likewise, if their experience is a poor one, they’ll be sure to warn you to stay away from certain stores. This takes quite a bit of the guess work out of which stores listed in the phonebook are worth stopping at and checking out. If your friends don’t like it, chances are you won’t either.

2. Interrogate the Staff
When considering a shop, make sure you spend time talking to the staff. Ask lots of questions, some of which you should already know the answer to. The staff should be knowledgeable as they are your first resource if something seems to go wrong with your fish or your tank. You should be able to rely on them to provide accurate information with a smile.

3. Marine Aquarists Be Wary
Make sure your potential store either caters equally to both marine and freshwater aquariums, or find a store that deals solely in marine aquariums. You don’t want to take on the challenge and investment of a marine aquarium without staff that know what you need and a store that regularly has the necessary supplies in stock. Have a list of what you know you’ll need and then ask them how much of it is available. If your list is commonly required items for a marine tank and the store does not carry them regularly, then consider looking elsewhere.

4. Cleanliness is Best
Any pet store, whether catering to fish, gerbils, cats, or dogs, should be clean, well-stocked, and healthy looking. Fish tanks should be well maintained (no algae building up on the walls), fish should look healthy, and you should feel comfortable in the store.

5. Filtration!
Don’t be afraid to ask what type of filtration system the store is using. The better the system, the healthier the fish because the water will be cleaner. And don’t be afraid to ask them if they will test their water for you. You will want to duplicate the same water in your home tank if the fish look healthy and they should be happy to provide you with those numbers for the health of the fish.

6. Try Before You Buy
Ask to feed the fish or see them fed before you purchase one. You will want to see their appetite firsthand before trying to take a picky fishy home. The stress of travel can make even the sweetest fish a bit picky, so you don’t want to deal with an even pickier picky fish. In addition, this gives you a chance to learn what sort of food they’ve been feeding the fish so you can purchase some yourself.

7. Sick? Ick
Check all fish for signs of disease such as frayed fins, cloudy eyes, white spots indicative of Ich, bloating, fungus, or missing scales. Are they happy looking? Are they calm and relaxed? If the fish appear ill, look elsewhere.

8. Coral
If you’re looking at coral for your reef tank, they should be full and robust, colorful, and void of discoloration and broken spots. Coral and live rock should be free of parasites and pests.

9. Quarantine
You quarantine your fish before adding them to your tank at home, so likewise, the fish store you are purchasing your fish from should be quarantining their new arrivals before adding them to the public tanks. Some disease can take more than a week to manifest and if fish are directly added to public tanks they may be spreading diseases and no one will know. A fish store should quarantine for about two weeks before adding new fish to the tanks for purchase.

10. Service
An aquarium store is a place of business and their staff should be friendly and helpful. They should be willing to help as much as possible to ensure your repeat business. If they aren’t, then you shouldn’t be in a hurry to return as their customer.