A LFS can either be a gold mine or a lump of coal depending on where you go... my goal in this article is to help everyone weed through their local stores to find the best one out there for THEM!! Being an employee at a small mom and pop LFS in a city of 10,000 people I feel I am acutely aware of what to look for... We have 5 stores in a 5 mile radius so I am fully aware of the pressures LFSs face.. Back to the meat of the article... A LFS first and foremost SHOULD be a place of valuable information to the hobbyist... The first judgment you should make is, does the store have knowledgeable staff in saltwater... Many stores carry not only fresh but also saltwater and if you are planning on keeping marine fish make sure there is someone there to answer any questions in regards to your meerwasser tank. Many stores will carry freshwater and dabble in salt only to leave you with questions you need answered(hence 3reef!;D) but this is not the store for you... If they do only dabble in salt, ask if they have a knowledgeable employee in salt on staff, this will save you much headache in the future. Said employee should be knowledgeable in filtration, livestock, corals and lighting if you want to be successful in your venture. I know this seems like a lot to ask from a store but believe me they are out there!! Once you have met the said person, feel them out, are they only trying to make a sale? Will they help you with products/livestock that you HAVEN'T purchased there? Are they open minded? These are questions you need answering before you jump full boar into a store. Next is to check out the products they sell... Even if a store has a great saltwater employee on staff, do they only sell freshwater supplements/items? Make sure they will sell what you need or at least order them. If the person recommends anhydrous calcium chloride but doesn't carry it or refuses to, that might NOT be your store!! Are the products tried and true or are they ones that have good price points for the shop? In defense to LFS, sometimes it is VERY hard to carry certain items or to sell them at prices comparable to online so PLEASE do not rule a store out just because they do not carry ATB skimmers or Sfiligoi lights!! Make sure that at the least, even if you are a devout internet shopper, they have the products you NEED if you are in a pinch. Say you ordered a gallon of liquid calcium chloride that is due in two days but you need some now, does that shop have an 8oz bottle on hand to get you through? On the subject of dry goods, see if your LFS is interested in setting up group buys for your local club or for that matter if you pre pay will they order that 60" Gieseman bulb for you. This not only helps you/your club but helps the store...Without them you have no LOCAL place to shop and talk fish!! The next most important but VERY crucial aspect is the livestock itself.... Is it healthy? By that I mean, is it free of disease? Is it eating? Did the shop acclimate it properly? Is proper husbandry being taken into consideration? Look at the eyes are they cloudy or clear? Is the stomach full or emaciated? Many people will judge a store on the amount of fish they keep and that is no way a good way to judge a shop. Fish room managers will stock what they know sells and if you live in a small locale they will most likely NOT order that Gem tang or hard to keep fish.... A GOOD LFS will have a decent selection BUT offer to get you what you need!! This again goes with knowing the fish room specialist, will they order that Barbonus Anthias for you? Granted you might need to place a down payment or prepay entirely but will they do it? Ask them how they acclimate? How long do they hold a fish before selling it? Will they hold a fish for you that you like? These are all good questions to ask when you are about to buy a fish. Corals and inverts are also something that needs to be addressed.. Do they have corals under the proper lighting and water flow? Are inverts labeled as reef safe or not? Is the salinity where it should be? Are the polyps looking good or retracted? Is there any tissue recession? Do they order wild caught or maricultured or aquacultured? Trust me, asking all these questions SHOULD'T upset the person it should inspire them to become more open with you.... The subject of livestock brings me to another valuable point... WHERE do they get their stock? Ask them, they should know. Are their clownfish tank raised or wild caught? Do they sell Banggai cardinals? Are THEY wild caught? Where do the corals come from? Are mandarins and copper banded butterflies something they keep in stock? These are all non offensive questions a LFS shouldn't mind answering! Again ask them, the acclimation procedure and how long a fish is in the store before it leaves. Ask them to feed a fish that you are interested in before you buy it to make sure it eats. This will make your hobby more productive trust me! Ask them about their wholesaler, not in a way that sounds like you are spying but ask about their reputation...not all wholesalers are equal!! In closing I sincerely hope you choose a LFS before any other outlet, just please make sure you are supporting one that is helping you and OUR hobby!!