A Newbie Walks into a Fish Store... - GTA Aquaria Forum - Aquarium Fish & Plants serving the Greater Toronto Area.
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Beginner's Circle This forum is dedicated to helping people new to the hobby. If you need help, this is your starting point.

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Old 01-15-2018, 11:53 PM   #1
Salinger
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Default A Newbie Walks into a Fish Store...

As a newcomer to the hobby (well, not actually in the hobby just yet) I thought I'd share my impressions of my Saturday visiting fish stores. I've noticed a few new people signing up to the forums around the time I have and since, and thought this might be helpful to them, or maybe they'd like to share their thoughts as well. This is probably going to be a bit long and rambling, so feel free it skip or else, settle in a comfy chair.

Since I'm still in research mode and deciding exactly what I'm going to buy, I thought it'd be a good idea to go have a look at the things in person that I've been viewing online for a few weeks now. On Saturday past I visited Big Al's in Scarborough, Petsmart at Laird & Eglinton E, and Downtown Pets & Aquarium and Menagerie, both downtown. Needless to say I spent the bulk of my day either on the TTC or in the stores. ...and what a cold day I picked to do this!

I'd heard a lot of crazy things about Downtown Pets. Stories of the staff there kicking people out of the store, or yelling at them etc. I didn't experience any of that, but there was certainly a very weird vibe in the store. First, when you walk in there are all these hand-written signs of what you're not allowed to do. No photos, no video, no phones.... Just past that, I saw the fish tanks to the right and as I was about to go over, there was, literally, a yellow "Caution" tape barring it off with another hand-written sign saying the area was off-limits to customers and if you were there to pick up a fish, see an employee. Before I had a chance to look at much else, a lady, presumably one of the owners, came over to ask if I was looking for something. I said I was just having a look around at aquariums and supplies. From there she went into full-on used car salesman mode. I really felt pressured to buy something, anything. She didn't ask what I wanted or any other questions that might get an idea of what I should be looking at. She just kept pointing out various kits and their price saying what a good deal it was. When I said I was just looking and wasn't ready to buy, she said "if you buy now, I'll give you discount; $10 of free fish, but only if you buy today." I thanked her and reiterated I wasn't ready to buy today, and left. The whole experience just felt very strange and uncomfortable. I don't think it's somewhere I'd visit again.

I'm not sure what was going on at Petsmart. There was not a single fish in any of their tanks but for three or four tanks near the floor with only goldfish. It was very weird. I found the staff here to be, perhaps surprisingly, the friendliest of all the places I visited. I didn't really ask any questions, and there were no fish there to talk about anyway, so I've no idea how knowledgable they were, but the young lady who came over to ask if I needed any help definitely was friendly and seemed competent enough. I later heard her questioning a dad with his daughter wanting to buy several goldfish. It seemed like they were buying them on an impulse, and I got the feeling the employee was politely trying to tell them how big a tank, and how much care goldfish need. Of course it was falling on deaf ears as the daughter kept telling the dad "Dad, they're only 41 cents each!!". All but a few very large aquariums were in retail boxes on shelves, so it wasn't any help in eyeballing the size or what they looked like. There really wasn't a huge selection of tanks there anyway, but it didn't help much to only be able to see boxes. Perhaps they're renovating, hence why no fish, because the fish section at least, seemed to almost be neglected and a bit disorganized.

Menagerie was much smaller than I'd imagined. There were almost no tanks for sale to look at save for a few very high up on top of the rows of aquariums. Again, all in boxes and most very small. Due to how small their space is, they may have had more in a store room, but again, I was hoping to see what some tanks actually looked like so that would be no help anyway. A nice assortment of fish for the size of the space, though nothing out of the ordinary that I could tell. The employee there was friendly but again in fairness, I didn't have any questions for him, so no judgement on his knowledge or abilities. I've no reason to doubt the many glowing reviews others have given Menagerie.

Finally there was Big Al's. Honestly, being a big chain, I was expecting BA's to be only slightly better than Petsmart given their greater emphasis on aquatics, but not really by much. But I have to say, I was very wrong, and despite being the farthest for me to travel, it was by far my favourite store of the day. One of the things I loved as a fish neophyte, was they had pretty much all their tanks for sale out and set up so you could easily see and touch them, open the lids and just get a really good idea of what you were getting; the only store of the bunch to do that. In addition to stock kits, it looked like they had several kits there that they pieced together themselves as well. They had loads of tanks and decor and it was pretty awesome for someone not used to it all. Staff there were friendly and made sure to make themselves available for questions, but were definitely not pushy or in your face by any means. Then I went downstairs into the fish room and despite the heat and humidity that made me think I'd portaled to Florida, it was pretty exciting to see the almost endless array of fish they had there. I must have spent over an hour there gawking at all the different species. It was a real eye opener for me. I also have connected with BA's via social media to ask a couple of questions on tanks and things, and they are being pretty awesome in how helpful they are and have given me some very honest feedback that went well beyond just trying to make a sale. I have to say, I'm kind of impressed by so many aspects of Big Al's.

Anyway, sorry for rambling on, just thought one or two of you might be interested in my experience as a newcomer. If you've made it this far, bless your patience and thanks!
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Old 01-16-2018, 12:43 AM   #2
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haha nice write-up. Great reviews. Enjoyed it.
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Old 01-16-2018, 07:51 AM   #3
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Alot of people get tanks from big als. They have the best prices for new aquariums. They also have two tents sales per year where you should be able to get a really good deal on the size tank you are looking for.

Big als is just alot more expensive on most tank accessories, filters, water dechlorinator. Check out some online sites in Ontario

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Old 01-16-2018, 09:52 AM   #4
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Default great post from a newbie

hey there and welcome to the forum , this was an awesome post and exactly what this forum is lacking ..

have u decided what kind of tank u are interested in and set up yet and of course what kind of fish are u looking to add to your tank.

that is an awesome write up , good for u for chking things out and not being taken by the crazy lady ..

reminds me on the tours I use to take when we first started in this hobby ..
usually would start out at nafb they have a selection of freshwater tanks have not been thru in a few years so cant tell u if good or bad .since u are most likely busing from the sound of your post its prob gonna be out of your way for a tour day .we would hit big als scarb..which in my opinion is prob one of the best ones out there I know there are many who hate big als and they all have there reasoning I have had good luck with them ,
we would also venture to luckys aquarium in pacific mall and aquapets
luckys use to be the place to go but lately have heard nil about them .plus I got turned off from the language barrier alwasys seemed to be talk in there language when I asked how much something was , have not visited for a while ,aqua pets is around the corner and has a variety of fish and supplies the store is a clutter store , the owner ricky has some knowledge and u can pick his brain .
since are using transit u may want to head down the Dundas strip there are quite a few stores on Dundas that are within travel distance
not sure of all the names as I don't really hit them anymore ,but there are about 4 I believe , big als missisauga , dragon small store kinda weird but people either like it or don't , there is another store in the same mall as dragon but for the life of me can not remember .
a few more have popped up since and will need some inquiring from some other members .
menagerie is small store , and usually gets some unique shipments in ..back in the day it was the place to get plants from that were rare .
finatics is another good store specializing in freshwater and mostly chiclids located Dixie rd and 401 area , have not been in a while but mike talks a lot and will let u know how much he knows about fish , good store some good deals and clean tanks .
that's all I got from memory here

there are a few members on here who sell plants home based , and some who sell fish , but that would all depend on what fish u are interested in .

as for tanks not sure what u are looking for like previous poster has said big als seems to have a good deal on tanks depends on what u want .
also forgot to mention magical aquarium on kennedy , not sure about fish quality new store , deff a language barrier store lots of knock off Chinese stuff , some good looking tanks , similar to the starfire tanks aqua inspiration use to sell , only diff I can see is the cuts on the glass from 90 degree to 45 degree where the silicone joins never seen that and not sure how they will hold up . but clean looking tanks
also keep an eye out on here or post a looking for in the buy and sell u just never know what we have in our basements or garages , deff worth before buying from stores , unless u are the type who likes brand new .
good luck and hope to see some more posts from u on your next adventure
cheers
tom
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90 gallon reef ready tank ...

hippo tang , yellow tang, 1 damsel ,flame hawk (favorite ),watchman goby ,harlequin star fish (hides boring ) bi -color blenny,cleaner wrasse , bengai cardinal,twin spot goby, mandarin .
sand sifting star fish ,
elusive marine betta(MIA - shows him self periodically -boring )

in progress TBA.....project tranquility ............


90 gallon dual drilled tank with sump
vertex 100-in
2 - evergrow leds ,dual t5 48" aquatic life fixture
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Old 01-16-2018, 02:26 PM   #5
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Hi Salinger,

I really enjoyed reading your post. So impressed that you are researching before buying anything-you are doing yourself all sorts of favours and no doubt will be doing right by your future fish/shrimp/snails/plants.....

I'm glad you went to Menagerie-did you see the retirement home tank? I think it says a lot about the business philosophy and the people who work there.

I've never had a bad experience with fish and shrimp from Menagerie and Shrimp Fever. Have never purchased from Petsmart but if you check the fish closely (look for fuzziness, torn fins, cloudy eyes, emaciation...) before buying and quarantine at home then it could all work out (best practise for everywhere, really). I've just never seen anything live that I wanted at Petsmart but they are good for supplies.

If you like internet research, www.seriouslyfish.com is great for looking up a huge variety of fish. No doubt you've discovered the community on Youtube. Rachel Oleary is an invaluable resource IMO.

If you like books, I still reference: Tropical Fishes by Mary E Sweeney et al and Mini Encyclopedia Aquarium. A great intro book is The Simple Guide to Freshwater Aquariums (I got it at Big Als on Kennedy. Books are behind the cash)

I hope more people take a moment to read your excellent post.

Jackie
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Old 01-17-2018, 08:51 PM   #6
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Thanks for such positive feedback everyone, greatly appreciate it. I wasn't even sure if that was the sort of thing anyone would care to read, but I was just hoping to encourage any other new people, especially people new to the hobby as I am, to maybe share some of their experiences too. Going to a fish store for me is, I'm sure, a very different experience than for many of you who are far more seasoned in the hobby.

I keep going back and forth between buying a starter kit, and trying to piece together my own set up. Most of the kits I've seen haven't appealed to me and seem to always be really deficient in at least one aspect; really bad filter, really bad heater, really bad lighting etc. The one kit I keep coming back to for a number of reasons though, is the Fluval Vista 23 gallon. It seems to check most of the boxes. It's a nice size for me, not too big, not too small. It comes with an AquaClear 50, a 100w Fluval heater, a decent, though from what I can gather, not exceptional LED lighting hood. (they say though it is good enough to grow low to mid light plants) and I do really like the rounded curved glass on the front. http://www.fluvalaquatics.com/ca/pro.../#.Wl_jK9-nGM8

Does anyone have any feedback on this kit? I'd love to hear from a more experienced mind on this, which is just about everyone. Menagerie said they can order it in for me at $280. Seems quite pricey, but, is it a case of you get what you pay for? I don't have enough knowledge yet to know.
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Old 01-17-2018, 08:56 PM   #7
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Fisheye View Post
Hi Salinger,

I really enjoyed reading your post. So impressed that you are researching before buying anything-you are doing yourself all sorts of favours and no doubt will be doing right by your future fish/shrimp/snails/plants.....

I'm glad you went to Menagerie-did you see the retirement home tank? I think it says a lot about the business philosophy and the people who work there.

I've never had a bad experience with fish and shrimp from Menagerie and Shrimp Fever. Have never purchased from Petsmart but if you check the fish closely (look for fuzziness, torn fins, cloudy eyes, emaciation...) before buying and quarantine at home then it could all work out (best practise for everywhere, really). I've just never seen anything live that I wanted at Petsmart but they are good for supplies.

If you like internet research, www.seriouslyfish.com is great for looking up a huge variety of fish. No doubt you've discovered the community on Youtube. Rachel Oleary is an invaluable resource IMO.

If you like books, I still reference: Tropical Fishes by Mary E Sweeney et al and Mini Encyclopedia Aquarium. A great intro book is The Simple Guide to Freshwater Aquariums (I got it at Big Als on Kennedy. Books are behind the cash)

I hope more people take a moment to read your excellent post.

Jackie
Thanks Jackie! I didn't notice the retirement home tank. But I wasn't there all too long as it was nearing their closing time and I didn't want to be "that guy" who is looking at fish and not buying anything while the employees are looking at their watches.

I love Rachel's YouTube channel! I actually really like the smaller species, and so most of her content really appeals to me. Thanks for the link to the website, I hadn't checked that out before. And coincidentally, I actually have The Simple Guide to Freshwater Aquariums on my Kindle! Just about done reading it and agree, it's a great resource for someone new to the hobby like me.
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Old 01-17-2018, 10:09 PM   #8
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That kit is definitely pricey. You obviously like to research and price out the equipment you want. Buy the tank and piece it together. It will be much cheaper.

If it's only a 29 gallon you are after you can use other pieces of furniture for a stand or build your own.

Usually the first tank we buy isn't our last. So we can learn from mistakes

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Old 01-17-2018, 10:40 PM   #9
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Default tank start up kits

hey there and u would be surprised at us fish geeks who read the long drawn out posts ...
before u commit to a curved glass tank head into a store that has one set and and chk it out most get really miffed at the way it looks when tank is all set and u get a wonky view from a specific angle .
I personally think a tank like that u can get cheaper if u wanted a reg tank .big als has good sales on starter tanks just don't get sucked in on them selling u everything and the kitchen sink ,make a list of what u want and what the kit comes with u will see that ure not really getting a deal .
make a list go to big als and just start writing down and pricing things when they ask u for help just say u are looking .. a tank that size does not necc need a stand that it comes with if u have something at home it may work .not sure when the next sale day is at big als but they usually have some sales on starter kits and tanks .we all know u are gonna upgrade soon so don't go balls out ,also once u know what one is worth new u can hit kijjii and see if someone has one that is pretty darn cheap cause they just want it out of there house . don't bother with the guys who are asking full price most likely they wont want to drop prices , hit the guys who are moving and need to clear space , once u have an idea , make a post for wants on here we always have tonnes of stuff in out basements and garages .
good luck
tom
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90 gallon reef ready tank ...

hippo tang , yellow tang, 1 damsel ,flame hawk (favorite ),watchman goby ,harlequin star fish (hides boring ) bi -color blenny,cleaner wrasse , bengai cardinal,twin spot goby, mandarin .
sand sifting star fish ,
elusive marine betta(MIA - shows him self periodically -boring )

in progress TBA.....project tranquility ............


90 gallon dual drilled tank with sump
vertex 100-in
2 - evergrow leds ,dual t5 48" aquatic life fixture
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Old 01-18-2018, 02:35 AM   #10
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+1 to Dis and Tom G’s words.

My experience with a “kit” was a Fluval Edge 6 gallon (way too small but it was all the rage and I didn’t know anything). The light died (Fluval did replace it-their customer service is really good.), the filter (Aqaclear 20) is now a secondary on my 20 long and I ended up removing the top panel of glass so it’s now a spare should a hospital or quarantine tank if needed. It was nowhere near $300.

I did look up the Vista and have picked it apart based my experience and research. HTH. (this is a truly great thread you’ve started)

- That curved front panel causes distortion and I don’t know what the purpose of that is. Artwork is framed with flat glass for a reason, but Tom is right and seeing one all set up is the ticket.(Or did you and I missed that bit) It's not likely to be the only tank you ever run, let's be honest. To compare, a 20 gallon long retails for around $100 and is 30x12x12.

-The Soft ON LED lighting so as to not startle your fish is a marketing gimmick . Just turn on the room lights a bit before the tank lights. The light is integrated into the hood and can be ordered as a replacement part.

If you bought a stock tank, would you want a light to run the length of the tank and sit on the rim (eg Marineland 36” strip LED $136), will it be adjustable and clip to the rim (eg Eheim Power LED $110) or hang from the ceiling (T5’s maybe? I don’t think this set up is cheap at all). Lighting is a subject that can be very very very involved and technical (for plants and optimal colouration of fish). Folks on this forum (PAS MOI) and aquascaping forums (plantedtank.net, aquascapingworld.com) can speak about PAR etc and maybe that’s a conversation that you’d enjoy. As with most things in this hobby…how much do you want to spend? LED is fine for low tech.

-Aquaclear 50 with media ($46 Petsmart-$59 Big Al’s). Aquaclear are good HOB filters but for anything over 10 gallons, a canister filter is the way to go. More than one brand of canister filter comes with media (maybe they all do?!?). Your costs moving forward will be on replacing foam and filter floss and whatever else you toss in there to build up biological activity or to make your water super extra sparking ($$). You don’t need carbon-save that stuff for removing meds should the need arise. You can spend a ton on a Starfire Rimless tank and high tech lighting but a good canister filter is must have. I have an EHEIM 2213 on a 20 Long. Cost $130. It makes no noise.

-Fishnet. Ok then. $5 retail. The more open the mesh, the easier to catch the fish.

-Tank cover. Maybe you want open top so this sucks as the light is integrated. Plus canopies tend to get covered in white stuff from tap water as well as mouldy fish food. That’s the truth.

-Fluval care guide.

-LCD thermometer. They are $3.99. And ugly.

-100 w heater.( $26-$80 Big Al`s). Depending on your fish, you may not need a heater. Additionally, if your place gets hot in the summer, you may need to cool off your tank. Depending on your fish.

-Fluval Tropical Fish food. $12 on Amazon.com. It’s flake which is way too easy to overfeed with, and also will your future fish eat flake? Down the road you may offer a rotating buffet of wafers, pellets, frozen, live, freeze dried (as a treat), gel (Repashy) or homemade.

-Fluval water conditioner. (1oz)30ml at 5ml/10 gallon. So if you get a 20 gallon tank, that’s only 3 water changes. Looks like there’s aloe vera (botanicals) in it which is not necessary. (4oz at Petsmart for $7.49) Although it has good reviews, most people use Seachem Prime.

-Fluval Biological Enhancement. This is a product used to jump start the bacterial colonies in the filter so you can add fish sooner (a la nitrogen cycle). At one point this was a hotly debated product (efficacy and type of bacteria and other science-y stuff). I have used it in the past but was diligent about testing water parameters for the first couple of months. A mature filter doesn’t happen overnight.

So whether the kit is a deal or not is only one issue at hand. Does make sense for your home and the kind of fish and plants that you want to keep? The whole setup will weigh around 230 lbs give or take so what kind of stand will it go on?

More stuff to buy:

You’ll need at least one brand new bucket and siphons or a python for water changes. Think of tank placement in proximity to water source and that will help with how you decide to do water changes.

A liquid reagent water parameter test kit. API sells one for about $30. Check the expiry dates before buying.

Substrate can be reasonable (pool filter sand, pebbles, nothing) or can cost a small fortune (soil type products-these can affect PH so research before adding). Calculate square foot of tank times depth to see how much you need.

Rocks are sold by weight and you pay a premium for the dreamiest ones. Slate, lava rock, and river rocks are cheapest. If you source stuff from the wild, do boil the crap out of it and ensure that it won’t affect your PH.

Wood-driftwood tends to be sold by weight. Manzanita, spiderwood bonsai, are sold by size and are not cheap. Some wood won’t sink right away so it has to be anchored down permanently or until it stays sunk. You can use hardwood from the Ontario nature but research which kinds and prepare properly.

Plants-Tropica tissue cultures are $12.99 everywhere. Not sure what Hortilab costs. Mosses tend to run $10-$16 per portion. Fertilizing via root tabs or water column. . If you haven`t yet, check out the Tropica website-all the plants are categorized by difficulty (light and co2 requirements). This forum is the best place to get great deals on plants and ferts.

Co2 system-you don’t need this if you are going low-tech.

Aquascaping scissors and tweezers. About $10 each.

Save your receipts. Also, Big Al’s only does in-store credit on returns.

The one thing that can’t be purchased in kit form or otherwise is patience.

Longest reply ever. Hopefully not annoying! I look forward to following your journey.

J

Last edited by Fisheye; 01-18-2018 at 02:52 AM.. Reason: More thoughts
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