Where's the fish store?
January 23, 2021. These photos were taken in Disney's Animal Kingdom, in the aviary in the Gorilla Falls walking trail. The fish are African Cichlids. African Cichlids are a current favorite for the home aquarium hobbyist.
If you live near Disney in Touristburbia, like we do, you can enjoy watching these African cichlids any time you go to the Animal Kingdom. There are also enormous koi fish in the water feature in the Japan pavilion in the Epcot World showcase. When we first moved to Touristburbia, seeing these fish at the Disney parks made me want to rekindle my hobby of keeping freshwater fish at home. I love the potential to create artistic landscapes in the tank. I love the soothing white noise of the filter bubbles. Mostly, I like watching the fish.
There are three ways to get fish and plants for your aquarium:
Shopping at a nearby pet store,
Shopping at a local fish store (also called LFS for short), or
The easiest is shopping at a nearby pet store like Petco or PetSmart. Here in my part of Touristburbia, there is a PetSmart nearby. The problem with pet stores is that many times the people who work the fish section have no knowledge about the fish. Without that knowledge, they can't advise you on how to take care of the fish once you buy them. They also may not be trained in how to keep the fish in the store tanks healthy until they sell. I have a few methods I use to decide if I want to buy a fish from a pet store. If there are dead fish in a tank, I don't buy any fish from that tank. If a fish is swimming strangely, or wiggling a lot, I don't buy it. I also look for signs of fungus or parasites. Bringing home a sick fish could endanger the rest of the fish in my tank. Many hobbyists keep a quarantine tank to temporarily house new fish before putting them into the main tank, to keep disease from spreading. I don't have room for an extra tank. From time to time I have found excellent fish at PetSmart that I have successfully added to my tanks. More often, though, I left the store empty handed. The advantages of shopping at a nearby pet store are that travel is minimized, and costs are generally fairly reasonable. The disadvantages are that selection is limited and the fish are often not healthy.
Going to a Local Fish Store isn't so easy if you live in the shadow of the Magic Kingdom. I call this area Touristburbia for a reason. Most of the housing around here is for short term tourists. Tourists don't shop for aquarium fish! To find a good fish store, I would have to look in areas with more full time locals, instead of an area population mostly by short term vacationers. A Google search for freshwater fish stores near me came up empty until I expanded the range to within 45 miles. Then I found several stores in the towns northeast or Orlando, and two in Lakeland. The best stores, taking into account the expertise of the staff, the selection of fish, and the relative health of the fish, were in the Orlando suburbs north and northeast of downtown. To see why this is a problem, read my previous blog post on traffic. I seldom have a whole afternoon free to drive for several hours to browse a fish store.
The advantages of a Local Fish Store are:
A better selection of fish than at a pet store,
I can pick out my own fish,
There are likely to be healthier fish than at a pet store, and
Usually there are staff who can provide good advice.
The disadvantages are:
If you live in Touristburbia, you have to drive a long way to a residential area, and
The fish in the store were sent there from another vendor, who may have gotten them shipped from overseas. That much travel and handling could make the fish more susceptible to illness.
I then tried option 3, ordering online. This was frightening! If a kitchen gadget from Amazon arrives broken or damaged, you can send it back. It's not as easy to send back a dead fish. Most of the online fish stores guarantee live delivery. They don't guarantee healthy delivery, though. There is also an issue with shipping. No matter how good an online vendor is, they have no control over how the fish are treated once the box goes into the designated company's delivery system.
I wanted some high quality, more unusual fish than I could find nearby. I decided to try a few online companies. I rated them on the quality of the fish, whether the fish resembled the photo on the web site, how well the fish were packaged and protected in transit, how healthy the fish were upon delivery, and the combined costs of fish and shipping. I ordered a few fairly inexpensive fish from several online vendors. Of the ones I tried, the winner turned out to be Imperial Tropicals, located about 40 miles from my house on the south side of Lakeland. The fish are a bit pricey, but worth it in terms of quality and health. The shipping costs are lower than most other companies. The lower shipping cost offsets the price of the fish considerably. On the rare occasion when a fish died in transit, the staff of Imperial Tropicals gladly offered a refund or a replacement.
Imperial Tropicals started out as a wholesale company only. They raise their own fish. Later they expanded into online shopping for individual customers, offering a chance to order direct from the breeder. Many other online vendors serve as resellers, ordering the fish from a wholesale company, housing them temporarily until they sell online. I found that reducing the number of times the fish are handled, shipped, and relocated into new tanks greatly improves the health of the fish when I get them. Buying from an online reseller includes the risks of buying in a store, without the option of choosing my own fish. By buying from the breeder at Imperial Tropicals, and removing the middle man, I got much healthier fish. Since they are the breeder, they usually have many more fish to choose from when they fill your order, compared to a vendor that is a reseller. And because they are the breeder, I believe they take extra care to find the best fish available for each order. I can picture their employees saying "Oh, here's a good one. Harry will love this one!" When I have made special requests, like requesting certain numbers of male or female fish, they have done their best to comply. They have a large facility and offer a wide variety of fish. If you like African Cichlids, like the ones I saw at Disney's Amimal Kingdom, they have a great selection.
After I had been shopping at Imperial Tropicals online for a few years, I found out they do allow in person pickup, by appointment only if you live within driving distance. I don't get to pick out my fish, but I do get to look at them before I drive away with my new pets. Besides the savings on shipping costs, I also reduce the chance of harm to the fish during shipping. With larger fish this isn't usually an issue. With smaller fish, like the juvenile bristlenose plecostomus catfish, extra care is needed that they don't get stuck in a corner of the transport bag. I prefer to pick up fish like these in person.
I recently drove to Imperial Tropicals to pick up some new fish, including some small catfish. Here is the interior of the new warehouse. My fish were bagged and ready for pickup just inside the door. I was not allowed further in, because the area is still under construction. They are also practicing social distancing during the pandemic.
The website for Imperial Tropicals is at https://imperialtropicals.com/. They are on social media, and also have a Facebook Group page for customers and hobbyists call Imperial Tropicals Fishkeepers Group. https://www.facebook.com/groups/368685423678130?ref=pages_group_cta
I have found the group page to be a helpful resource for getting tips on aquarium care, sharing photos with fellow enthusiasts, and making wish lists.
Here is a shot of one of my tanks. The fish, and many of the plants, are from Imperial Tropicals. This tank serves as a room divider between my home office and the rest of the house.