I just came across this forum today. I'm in Milwaukee...Franklin actually.
I hear you mention Hoffers? I've never been there; I'll have to head over and take a look at it this weekend....
I've been to the place downtown on 3rd street (Martina Luther King Drive?) quite a few times....great shark tank, and I'll probably be buying my next filter from them, but the store is not the cleanest, and the people working there asked me if a cardinal tetra was a salt water fish......good prices on hardware though.
Aquatics unlimited is my main source for information (after the internet), fish, plants, and "some" hardware". I had to call 3 times to verify they were really asking 300 bucks for a 160 dollar filter....but the knowledge of the staff is remarkable, and they truly seam to enjoy what they do. Some of their display tanks are worth the trip alone.
There’s another small place on Okalahoma between 76th and 108th...I'll probably never go in that place again. Many dead fish in the tanks...and they have the nerve to sell painted, dyed, injected, and mutated fish as a wild breed...there prices are a little high and the staff seamed like they were being forced to work there. Their Co2 display tank looks like the Co2 has been depleted for a few months, the plants were all withered and brown, and there were dead fish in the display....I think it was once a good store, but it looks like the owners just stopped caring.
The last place I can think of is a small store in a strip mall on the corner of 76th and Okalahoma. Not much of a selection and the lady working at the counter didn’t even say hello to me when I walked in. Nice looking store though, and worth a trip if your browsing on a weekend afternoon.