When the nearly 50-year store A World of Fish closed in Richfield last year, a group of former employees moved across the border to Minneapolis to continue the local fish-keeping tradition. They found a window-filled, airy space in Windom to open Rivershore Aquariums in November of 2022.

Customers could find cheaper supplies and fish at big box pet stores, but the knowledgeable staff at Rivershore are passionate about fish-keeping. Plus customers are supporting  a locally-owned store with locally-grown fish.

Some customers wander into Rivershore from Bachman’s, which is across the street, for the plants and sometimes consider getting a fish. Wetmore said that he aims to serve the spectrum of people who walk through the doors from small breeders to plant people who are interested in trying fish.

“That person needs to buy that stuff somewhere, but then there’s another customer on the exact opposite side of the spectrum of interest. ‘Hey, never done this before but I was out with my kid at Bachman’s, saw you guys had plants, do you have Nemo fish?’” Wetmore said.

Neon tetras like the fish above glow under black light. Photo by Anna Koenning

Rivershore Aquariums sells mostly freshwater fish, some saltwater fish and a variety of aquarium plants in addition to aquarium products. Co-owner Derek Wetmore said that the crew encourages a symbiotic relationship between fish and plants in aquariums, meaning the fish waste turns to nitrogen to feed the plants and the plants in return create oxygen for the fish. This relationship between plants and fish makes the tank cleaner and keeps the fish healthy.

Rivershore Aquariums sells goldfish, puffer fish and a whole lot in between. Photo by Anna Koenning

“It’s harder to keep a plasticky plant tank clean or looking nice, looking natural,” co-owner Derek Wetmore said. “It’s easier to maintain as the plants are helping you.”

The fish tanks at Rivershore are sparkling clean, and the fish look healthy. The atmosphere is peaceful with the sound of water trickling and a soft spa-like playlist playing. The fish happily swim through ample plants and natural-looking rocks inside their tanks. Wetmore greeted a customer by name and asked about his setup.

You won’t see the plastic aquarium decorations like a Spongebob Squarepants hut at Rivershore. The aquascaping section, which is like landscaping for fish tanks, includes driftwood and rocks that make for a very natural-looking tank. There’s a tabletop tray of aquarium rocks with measurements for customers who know their tank’s dimensions to try out tank decor placement. This way customers can see if a rock would fit in their tank before bringing it home. Aquascaping is as functional, as fish need hiding spaces to feel comfortable, as it is an art.

Rivershore Aquariums specializes in natural aquascaping. Photo by Anna Koenning

“We wanted a place that you could come in whether you’re a fish person or not, and feel like you’re welcome here and you can hang out as long as you like,” Wetmore said.

Wetmore and his colleagues chose the Lyndale Avenue location because of the South Minneapolis location, the South-facing windows and the classic wood floors. Fish-specific stores are often dark, humid spaces crowded with tanks, while Rivershore has high ceilings and air flow. This setup was intentional to be less intimidating to newcomers to the fish-keeping hobby.

“We saw the chance for something a little bit nicer to maybe get people who are on the fringe, who maybe aren’t walking in that dingy basement, to come in, give it a try,”  Wetmore said.

Keeping the tanks clean and hardwood floors dry comes naturally to the crew because Rivershore also has a private tank maintenance operation. Rivershore employees clean  private tanks, the type you see at dentist offices, to maintain the tanks and fish.

Encouraging the fish-keeping hobby locally is a goal of Rivershore Aquariums. Photo by Anna Koenning

Besides their maintenance customers, Rivershore’s customer base is local fish hobbyists or newcomers to keeping fish. The local aspect is important because fish don’t handle change in water or atmosphere well. A fish raised in a Minneapolis fish store with Minneapolis water is going to survive better in a Minneapolis home than a fish that was raised in Florida and shipped to Minneapolis.

Rivershore sources fish from a nearby wholesale dealer and local breeders. Some of their breeders are serious fish-keepers who intentionally breed fish in their home tanks, and other breeders are people whose fish unexpectedly had babies and they don’t have space for 20-100 baby fish.

Rivershore Aquariums has a small selection of saltwater fish like this clown fish. Photo by Anna Koenning

Kids are frequent customers on weekends, sometimes to set up their first tank with a parent. Wetmore said that while everybody should be mindful when buying fish not to treat them as a “disposable pet,” kids can be great fish-keepers and enjoyers.

“Kids can absolutely take care of a fish tank if they have the scaffolding,” Wetmore said. “In terms of enjoying a fish or an ecosystem, it’s a lot lower risk too, that barrier to entry isn’t so high as to say getting a puppy. So in that way maybe it is a great first pet.”

Wetmore himself joined the hobby as a kid, first with his parents’ tank before moving on to his own. He went to college for journalism and worked in the field for a few years before starting his fish career at A World of Fish.

“The classic journalist turned fish store owner,” Wetmore described himself.

Kids might need help remembering to feed their fish regularly and little ones probably can’t change their own tank water, but Wetmore highlighted that anybody, even adults like himself who kill plants like it’s a job, can keep fish and aquarium plants.

He recommends that new fish-keepers find a mentor with experience, which could be a Rivershore employee, because there is a lot of bad advice about fish-keeping on the internet.

“We think that it’s going to continue to be important to have a local presence to keep the hobby thriving and vibrant,” Wetmore said.

Rivershore Aquariums is located at 6015 Lyndale Avenue S. and is open 11 a.m. - 7 p.m. Wednesday through Monday. You can see more of the store on Instagram.