So my (much) better half and I have hit all, or near there to, the LFS in the Chicago area multiple times in the last month. Just wanted to share my thoughts on them, and start a central thread on LFS in the Chicago area.
Fed 13th. -- Added Aquarium Adventure, Hoffman Estates courtesy of DogFish, and added The Coral Reef courtesy of 2010GA6.
Old Orchard Aquarium --
Across the street and 2 blocks north of Old Orchard Mall on Golf Road in Skokie.
BIG aquarium store. Carries LOTS of parts. Much better equipment part selection than any where else in the city. More focused on salt than fresh water nowadays. Prices are quite high on everything from dry goods to live stock to plants. When they get a plant order in, they have a crazy selection including some rare species (at high prices). When they haven't gotten a plant order in recently, their selection is somewhat poor. They don't get orders in that frequently, so worth calling ahead. Best plants are in a handful in the front that are defacto display tanks. They will sell the plants from those, but don't seem motivated to. I asked a price on a massive Anubias Nana on a couple different trips in, got different quotes, ranging from reasonable to astronomical. Knowledgeable staff, but some of them can be close lipped at times. Planted tanks are not a priority. Regardless, a pretty interesting place to visit for the big Clown Loach tank if nothing else.
Livestock varies in quality. Some of the tanks are beautiful, some have haggard looking fish. I have seen diseased fish in some of the tanks at times. All the tanks are on separate filtration though, which helps.
They have a hydroponics store attached if you are interested in that stuff, and carry a massive line of hydroponics ferts which may have planted tank applications, but I don't know.
Old Town Aquarium --
Wells just south of North Avenue.
Most prices reflect the location, but we picked up some decent sized clown loaches for a reasonable price, and they told me they sell pygmy cories for $3 when they have them, which is reasonable.
More salt water focus than fresh, but a decent fresh water selection. Tanks seem well cared for. Limited plant selection, but what they do have seems good.
They seem to have the most focus on nano tanks of any store in the area. They have all the fluval setups, and the staff know about them. Several fluval nano display tanks set up. Some beautiful salt water stuff in here, and a not-terrible selection of foods, especially the frozen food freezer had a big selection. They also had live tubifex etc readily on hand.
*** SPECIAL NOTE ***
Old Town has a larger selection of hardscaping materials suitable to modern-style planted tanks (nature aquarium style tanks) than any other LFS, even Old Orchard. I went in to buy rock recently. They have multiple bins full of lace rock, a bin of zerba rock, and had about a dozen show-quality pieces of driftwood, almost all stumps, when I was in most recently. You pay, but the selection of this specific type of thing is MUCH better than any where else.
31st and Archer.
Even split between salt and freshwater. Smallish store, but a surprising selection given the size. A couple dedicated plant tanks in the bank, with the best selection of foreground/carpeting plants I have seen in the area. They have more C02 driven tanks than anywhere else in the city, including a GORGEOUS high tech planted community tank as their primary display tank, right up front. They also have two beautiful CO2 driven nano setups, one with an unbelievably dense, thick carpet of HC in a Finnex 4G. Livestock seems to vary in quality. Relatively heavy focus on ciclids in the livestock.
Most interesting thing about this place is the massive rack of parrotfish dedicated tanks in the back with crazy varieties fetching extremely high prices. Not sure what the deal with these is, but they are neat.
They have more CO2 equipment than any of the other stores in the area. Three lines, including the Fluval line, all micro-scale CO2 setups.
Seem to be directly stocking more things for planted tank folks. Recently had Zebra Otos in, and they are *regularly* stocking very nice Scarlet Badis.
Wilmette Pet --
Greenbay Road near downtown Wilmette.
Surprisingly good selection of fish for the size of the store. Decent selection of nano-tanks. In general, fish seem very healthy. Not a half bad plant selection, and most importantly the owner, Dave, is MORE than willing to help you get whatever he doesn't have. Very friendly, helpful staff. The owner is the only one who really seems to know fish, but just a pleasant place to shop. We have begun buying our dogfood there because they seem so customer focused. They carry the Fluval micro-CO2 stuff at the cheapest prices in town, if that interests you.
The Living Sea --
Devon Ave. in Park Ridge.
Easily the biggest independent aquarium store in the Chicago area. MASSIVE. about half salt, half freshwater. HUGE plant tanks up front. Live stock looked hit or miss, but in general the fish seemed more healthy than not. BIG selection, but another example of ciclid focused selection. Crazy salt water selection. This place sort of reminded me of a less fancy, bigger version of Old Orchard Aquarium. Worth the drive out there at least once just to poke around. Absolutely no focus on nano tanks at all.
The Fish Bowl --
Chicago Ave (Clark Street) just south of downtown Evanston.
Half fish, half other pets. All fresh water, 80% of the tanks planted. Sounds like a good recipe but... None of the fish or plants looked thriving to me. Worth checking out simply because they have so many plants, but no real desire to go back personally.
Fish Planet --
Waukegan Rd, Deerfield.
Way up in the northern burbs but...
Freshwater display tanks are all in the back. Beautiful discus tank, beautiful ciclid tank, a couple cute nano setups.
They carry Mr. Aqua tanks, which no other store does in the area (affordable ADA-style alternative.) Half salt water, half fresh. Small store, but amazing selection given the size.
EASILY the highest quality looking livestock in the area. EVERY SINGLE tank is sparkling clean, no sick fish, no dead fish. Just beautiful tank after beautiful tank. Owner is apparently the original owner of Old Orchard Aquarium. Limited selection of equipment etc, focus is towards the high end. Prices on everything are a little above average, but definitely lower than Old Orchard.
This is my favorite store out of the bunch. If it was 2-3 times the size it is it would be perfect. The tanks here are just gorgeous (and I don't mean the display tanks.) Incidentally, this store also has the most vibrant looking salt water tanks of any of the stores in the area, with a display reef tank that looks ripped out of a Jaques Cousteau film.
Small store, but worth the drive up at least once. Tuesday is the day they get new fish and plants in. Excellent selection of live food, though not quite on Old Town's level I think.
Sadly the most knowledgable, nicest employee is leaving for college soon. I don't know if the tanks will go down hill after he is gone, as he seems to be there almost every day. (My better half works about 8 blocks from this store, so we stop in most weekends when she needs to run by the office.)
Ocean Design Aquarium --
Really nice owner whom is almost always on premises. Seems more amenable, and gives more credit, to trade ins than most places, including plants. 2 large tanks, a 120 and a ? full of plants, with several more smaller plant tanks. Often has some nice nano fish including reasonably priced CPDs. Regularly has HC in stock in mat form, but is not running CO2 in the tank, so it often looks a little scraggly. Regularly carries Florida Aquatics parva pots which seem to do well and propagate in his tanks. Only place I have seen parva in the Chicago area. Live stock has looked good when I have been in, not a massive selection, but he does seem to have a better handle on what people want right now -- Rummy nose, black neons, CPDs to name a couple of the things he always seems to have in. Equipment and dry goods selection is pretty light. After Fish Planet, this is probably my favorite Chicago area store, but it isn't massive nor does it have the craziest selection. That said, there is almost always something I have to keep myself from buying. The owner (wish I could remember his name) is also just a really nice guy.
Pity it is so far west.
Coral Reef --
COURTESY OF 2010GA6
Lawrence and Overhill 7725 Lawrence
They've cleaned the place up and is in excellent shape. Prices are high for the fish I was looking at. Carries salt and fresh water. Big tank stock. large driftwood. He has a large tank dedicated to plants I was able to pick up 2 medium swords, 2 large 20" swords, 1 rose, 1 amazon. 3 different anubias and a few cool bunch plants. They treated the medium swords and anubias as a bunched plants and I grabbed them for $2.99. Large plants, $12.99 swords, and $11.99 Anubias. Basically, if they are rooted and not in a pot, $2.99.
The best place for plants that I've found recently.
They are having a sale 11-26 20% of most stock.
Aquarium Adventure - Hoffman Estates --
OP note -- AA isn't really a LFS. It is a 3-location brand owned by Petland. But it is a unique aquarium store, and there are only three of them so...
COURTESY OF DOGFISH
Went there today around noon. Didn't know thy were a subsidiary of PetLand. Bad mark in my book before I get out of my car, PetLand sells Puppy Mill Puppies. I won't support any company that does that. But, since I was there
Thought U should at least go in an look.
Lots of help scurrying around. But apparently you have to take a number like in a deli or something to get anyone to pay attention to you. Or maybe there is a dress code??? I was there 45min. before some asked me if I was looking for something. STRIKE 2
When I finally did get approached the guy was friendly
Large amount and decent variety of plants. However, they all looked washed out in color. They did look healthy enough that if you are anyone but a complete new be you should be able to salvage them. This is why I alway try to remind people you get what you pay for with plants. Better to by from a member on Swap and pay more to be successful.
I really like the larger show case tanks. To see large Frontosa in a a huge tank was very cool. They do have a larger store and carry a lot of products I only have seen online. Only saw one floater in all tanks. Their fish looked healthy. They were heavily stocked today I have to think they had recently received an order.
Over all O.K., worth the visit if you are in the area if for no other reason that to see the display tanks. Prices on Hard goods were fair a few very good prices on larger tanks. Large amount of tanks on had and happy to order what ever you want.
Did I miss any? Please add any stores that I don't know about! Still searching for that perfect aquarium store in the area....