Marine Aquarium Acronyms: LFS Defined (Plus 8 Traits of a Good One)

A variety of fish on display in a local fish store

A variety of fish on display in a local fish store

Among marine aquarium enthusiasts, it’s fairly safe to say that no acronym is bandied about with greater frequency than “LFS.” But what exactly does that mean? London Free School? Libertarian Futurist Society? Laughing, Fraudulent Seals?

I kid, of course. In hobby parlance, LFS simply stands for Local Fish Store—in other words, the enabling retailer who feeds our insatiable addiction to all things marine. You know, the friendly dealer who makes it possible for us hobbyists to perpetually “chase the dragon” (wrasse) in pursuit of that next saltwater-induced high.

In prior posts, we’ve touched upon choosing healthy saltwater fish at your LFS as well as the pros and cons of buying livestock from your LFS versus online, but what about choosing the right LFS? They’re not all created equal, so what should you look for when deciding where to spend your precious hobby dollars?

Here are eight characteristics that I feel define a pretty decent LFS:

1. Knowledgeable, helpful staff

This doesn’t mean everyone on staff has to be an expert on every fish or product they sell (that individual doesn’t exist). It just means they have a solid foundation of knowledge and experience and if they don’t know an answer to a specific question, they can figure out how or where to find it easily enough.

In addition, I think it’s important for the staffers to acknowledge your presence when you arrive and let you know they’re available to help and answer questions without stalking or smothering you while you shop. It’s a fine line, but the good ones know how to walk it.

2. Practical business hours

I’m always baffled by aquarium stores that have severely restricted business hours, such as 10:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. on days not ending in “Y.” Daytime hours may be great for retirees or independently wealthy people who have no need to work a job, but for the rest of us, convenient evening and weekend hours are a must.

3. Stocked display tanks

I’ve been in some fish stores that seem to specialize in selling “invisible fish.” That is, they have lots of tanks filled with salt water but few if any fish actually on display in them. Or, they may have several specimens of the same or just a few different species spread throughout the store to give the illusion of selection. My idea of a good LFS is one that has a wide variety of different, interesting species to choose from and marvel at.

4. Healthy livestock

A competent dealer is very concerned about the health and physical condition of the specimens he or she sells. If I see fish or invertebrates that are obviously injured, exhibiting symptoms of disease, or, worse, actually deceased and left rotting in a display tank, I beat a hasty retreat from that LFS.

5. Well-maintained tanks

The condition of the display tanks also says a lot about the quality of an LFS. Tanks that are in a questionable state—murky, choked with algae, loaded with detritus, etc.—should be a red flag that the operation doesn’t put a high priority on maintenance, which translates into stressed, unhealthy livestock.

6. A good mix of dry goods

In addition to offering a wide variety of livestock, an LFS should offer a good mix of dry goods that you might need—for example, fish food, heaters, pumps, brushes and algae magnets, tubing, clamps, filter media, and, ideally, even a selection of tanks and stands in various sizes.

7. Flexibility

A good LFS will work with you and try to make accommodations to ensure your success in the hobby. For instance, they should be willing to hold livestock for a down payment while you get your quarantine tank set up or allow you to return a healthy specimen in the event that you run into a compatibility issue with your established livestock.

8. Marines are the focus

Last but not least, the best dealer to work with is one who actually specializes in marine livestock—not a freshwater specialist who offers some marines as a sideline. I have been in stores that specialize in both and truly have the expertise to back it up, but such businesses tend to be the exception rather than the rule.

What are your criteria?
So, fellow salties, what do you look for in an LFS? Please let us know in the comments section below!


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About Jeff Kurtz

Jeff Kurtz is the Co-founder/Editor of Saltwater Smarts, former Senior Consulting Editor for Tropical Fish Hobbyist Magazine, and the aquarist formerly known as “The Salt Creep.” He has been an aquarium hobbyist for over 30 years and is an avid scuba diver.


  1. I agree with the hours with one caveat, Being that I work retail my self, people seem to think that its perfectly OK for me not to have a life and be open when its convenient for them, and regularly berate me when I wont stay open a half hour late so they can pick up some brake pads.

    Some of us are too small to afford to have the staff to have such expanded hours. Which is why I do offer days where I am open 11-7 but also days where I am open 10-5, and I still work 60 hours a week, but Not all day everyday and being disrespectful about it doesn’t help.

    It also isn’t the show of a bad shop because you don’t agree with their hours.

    • Jeff Kurtz says

      Thanks for these insights, Brad! I worked in a retail nursery/lawn-and-garden center for many years, so I definitely understand where you’re coming from and have had more than my share of disrespectful customers. Certainly, when we salties are in the role of customer, we should all be cognizant of the fact that LFS owners are people too and that they have lives and families outside the business. Hmm, maybe a good follow-up post would be “8 Traits of a Good LFS Customer.”

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