Where has my fish store gone?
The tropical fish industry is changing. With the entrance of the national chain stores into the market, many mom and pop stores are closing. They just cannot compete, especially on fish supplies, with the bigger chains. Because the chain stores have multiple locations throughout the country and often in the same town, they are able to purchase supplies in bulk at a discount that the smaller single owner stores cannot. Some may also to be able to get better deals from the wholesale fish farms prices than a smaller store can.
In the York area, this process started with the loss of Lonny Langione’s store at Delco Plaza. In 1997, Tony’s Tropical fish store closed as well. At the end of 2013, Getty’s pet store, which also sold a limited amount of fish closed. Brad’s York Pet store as the last only non-chain retail brick and mortar store that had tropical fish in York to my knowledge closed at the end of 2016. This leaves CAS as the only Mom and Pop type fish store in York.
Recently the last tropical fish store in Harrisburg, PA also closed. This leaves That Fish Place, That Pet Place, in Lancaster, PA as the only standing brick and mortar non-chain store in the area that carries a wide variety of tropical and salt water fish. Their store is one of the largest around and that is how they are able to compete with the Chain Stores and Amazon.com. Amazon.com sells a lot of fish supplies through their web site. Their prices are hard to beat because like the chain stores they can buy in bulk at larger discounts from the manufacturers. Since it is impossible to compete with them, I set up an aStore, where my customers can buy products on my web site through Amazon.com that I otherwise would not be able to carry. These products are located in the supplies area of the CAS web site. Over the past few years, I have noticed a shift at That Fish That Pet Place toward more dog, cat, reptile, and bird items and a reduction in some of the fish supplies. I am guessing this is being caused by the difficulty to compete with the larger chain stores as well.
One big problem with the chain stores is their selection of fish. Most of these stores tend to buy assorted groups from the wholesalers. Many use the same wholesaler which only sells to brick and mortar stores and primarily to the chains. What the chain stores may not realize is that when you buy assorted groups from the wholesalers, in most cases you are getting what the wholesaler cannot sell otherwise. Sometimes this is because they simply have a glut of a certain fish; but, many times it is because these fish are slow sellers and often less desirable fish. Many of the African Cichlids that come in these type mixes are ones that can get quite aggressive. Compounding the problem is the fact that most chain stores rarely hire people with fish knowledge or train their pet area employees on fish. Many times this results in bad mixes both in their tanks and bad mixes of fish being sold to their customers. One example that I have seen frequently is mixing Aulonocara with aggressive mbuna. Another is mixing Central and South American Cichlids with African Cichlids. As a result, the customer tends to end up with a mix where the more aggressive fish kill off the more calm fish. This causes customers to get discouraged and get out of the hobby.
In response to this situation, many online tropical fish dealers have entered the market to take up some of the void. In the York area, there are two online fish dealers to my knowledge. They Include: Cichlids Are Special, which specializes in African Cichlids mostly from Lake Malawi and Lake Tanganyika; Invertebrates by msjinkzd, which specializes in smaller fish, shrimp, and invertebrates, As you can see, most internet dealers specialize in one group of fish. The more generalized stores which carried a mix of live bearers, African Cichlids, Central and South American Cichlids, and Saltwater Fish has not carried over to the internet. This is mostly because of the limited space most internet fish stores have available.
A number of the wholesalers also specialize in specific types of fish. Many specialize in cichlids primarily. Others specialize in Salt Water Fish. Some specialize in central and south Americans.
Some wholesalers import fish. Even a few of the online retailers import fish as well. Importing fish can tricky. You are never really sure who you are dealing with. Some imports are better than others. Occasionally they can send you the wrong fish. And yes even the fish farmers that have been in the business for many years that import can occasionally get fooled by the wrong fish. Adding to this problem is the constant reclassification and name changes some of these fish go through. When this happens, retailers can get a fish from a wholesaler that is not correct. This is especially true of African Cichlids. Many times these fish are sold at a very young age when all of them look like the female. Females from the same classification tend to look alike making this problem even more difficult. This is why CAS leaves the importing to the more expert wholesalers.
As most of you know, I run an on-line store called Cichlids Are Special. Due to space and other considerations, I specialize in African Cichlid mouth brooders. One of the reasons for mouth brooders is that I can breed a number of these fish on my own which helps me to keep down cost and helps me be more competitive. The rest of my fish from wholesalers. Over the years, I have used a number of different wholesalers. Recently I have moved to the one that I consider to be the best available at this time for African Cichlids. This wholesaler is a marine biologist and usually very careful with his fish. He also helps to supply some of the other farms and is trusted in the industry. Errors, however, still can occur and when they do, I do my best to correct them. Mistake fish that are left in stock are changed to their proper name on my web site, as soon as I am aware of the error. If I have consistent problems with a specific wholesaler, I either discontinue using them or if I cannot find a reliable alternative, I only reorder fish from them that I know I can trust to be correct.
Because internet dealers like me tend to specialize in specific types of fish, this means they tend to offer many varieties that cannot be found elsewhere. In my case, I try to offer as many rare varieties that will sell frequently and mix well with most of the rest of the fish I offer. Some of the more rare varieties I carry include Aulonocara Maleri Orange, Aulonocara Maylandi, Aulonocara Blue Neon Chiwindi, Copadichromis Kawanga, Copadichromis atripinnis, and Cynotilapia Zebrodies Ntekete and Xystichromis Kyoga Flame back Albino in house. Through my wholesaler, I have access to many other rare types like: Auloncara ethelwyannae, Aulonocara Kandeense (Blue Orchid), Aulonocara saulosi border (Green Face), Aulonocara sp. “Chitande Type North” (Yellow Head Peacock)(coming soon), Aulonocara staurtgranti Blue Dorsal (Blue Dorsal Flavescent), Buccochromis nototaenia, Aristochromis Christyi (Malwai Hawk), Champsochromis caerulus (Trout Cichlid), Copadichromis Geertsi (Coming Soon), Copadichromis sp. Virginalis Gold, Copadichromis Trewavasae “Msisi” (Fireline Mloto), Exochromis anagenys, Fooschromis rostratus, Lethrinops sp Mbawa, Lethrinops Mbasi (Comming Soon), Lichnochromis acuticeps (Malawi Gar), Naevochromis chrysogaster, Nimbochromis fuscotaeniatus (Fusco),Nimbochromis Livingstoni, Nimbochromis Venustus, Otopharynx Decorus Nkete, Otopharyna sp. Auromarginatus Margrette (Big Spot) (Comming Soon), Placidochromis sp. “Phenochilus Mdoka” (Mdoka White Lips) (Coming Soon), Placidochromis Makonde Yellow Black Fin, Placidochromis sp. “Electric Blue” Lundo Island (Electric Blue Nova), Protomelas marginatus (Turquoise), Protomelas ornatus Masinje (Thick Lips) (Will Eat Mbuna. Best in 90 Gallon or larger tanks) (Coming Soon), Sciaencohromis Iceberg Red Fin (Germany), Taeniochromis holotaenia Eccles Reef (Rare) (Coming Soon), Taeniochromis praeorbitalis (Rare) (Coming Soon), Taeniochromis furcicauda nketeke (Rare) Coming Soon), Cynotilipa sp. mbamba luwino Reef (Yellow Head Afra), Labeotropheus Chalo Reef (White Belly), Labeotropheus trewavasae chilumba ochre, Melanochromis chipokae Chidunga Rocks, Metriclima hajomaylandi Chizumulu Island (Greberi), Metriclima hajomaylandi Lilac Greberi, Metriclima pulpican (Kingsizei frost), Metriclima Sp. “Dolphin Manda” (Giant Demasoni), Metriclima sp. “Elongatus Chewere”, Metriclima sp. “Gold Kawanga” (Zebra Gold) (Coming Soon), Metriclima sp. “Msobo” Magunga (Msobo Deep), Metriaclima sp. Zebra Chilumba Mason Reef, Metriaclima sp. Zebra Chilumba Mdoka (Coming Soon), Pseudotropheus sp. perspicax “Orange Cap”, Pseudotropheus sp. “polit” Lions Cove, Pseudotropheus williamsi north (Blue Lips), Astatopliapa aeneocolor, Lipochromis sp Matumbi (Matumbi Hunter), Neochromis omnicaerleus Makobe Island (Tricolor Fulu), Paralabidochromis chromogynos, Paralabidochroms sp. “Red Fin” (Red fin Piebald), Pseudocreniabrus philander, and Xystichromis phyrophagus (Christmus Fulu). In addition, my wholesaler is adding new fish all the time and he is now importing rare types from Germany.
What all this means for the hobbyist is that it is very important to support your local non-chain stores and online dealers in order for this industry to continue to provide many of the more rare varieties of Tropical fish in the future. With-out customer support these stores will also close. If the hobby is left to the chain stores and nothing is done to improve the way they currently sell their fish, the fish industry, and the hobby is likely to die. It is up to the hobbyist to keep the tropical fish industry going.
Fish clubs are vital to the Tropical fish industry as well. They help to educate hobbyists and keep the hobby going. In the York PA, we have the CCY which meets in Spring Grove, PA. One of the things the CCY does best is trying to promote the hobby to young people. Young people are the future of the hobby and need to be encouraged. Nearby in the Lancaster area, you will find the ACLC. To our south is the CCA which meets in Silver Spring, MD. It is important for the hobbyist to get involved and support their local fish clubs. Join one today and join the fun. These clubs are not only educational; but, often offer fun activities. Fish clubs are also a great way to meet new friends that share a common interest.
In conclusion, get involved, buy fish from your local non-chain stores and online dealers, support your local fish club, and let’s keep this wonderful going for generations to come.
By Jay Stephan
Cichlids Are Special Owner
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