Couple dive into aquarium business

Martin and Lisa Hoeber stand in the 15,000-gallon fish store, Super Cichlids, they opened in September. (Delaware State News/Ian Gronau)

DOVER — With the grand opening of Super Cichlids in late September, owners Martin and Lisa Hoeber put Dover on the map in the freshwater aquarium world.

At 15,000 gallons and growing, they believe they’re one of the biggest freshwater fish stores in the northeast region of the country – certainly the biggest in the state.

“There are some fish stores that may be larger in the northeast, but they’re incorporating saltwater fish too – we’re exclusively freshwater fish, specializing in cichlids.”

Cichlids are a large family of freshwater fish mostly distributed throughout tropical countries. They provide a food source in some areas, but are best known as aquarium fish. Though the exact number isn’t known, it’s estimated that there are several thousands of species in the cichlid family.

After retiring from a 20-year career at the Dover Air Force Base in 2015, Mr. Hoeber decide to join his wife — who he calls the brains of the operation — in the expansion of her online fish supply business.

“My mother was a hobbyist, so that’s really where it started for me,” said Ms. Hoeber of her obsession with collecting and learning about cichlids. “We were always surrounded by fish tanks.”

After having some success selling supplies and dry goods online, the duo decided to make the leap to a physical location last November. They selected a large warehouse/retail space in the Tudor Business Park in Dover and went to work designing it for their needs.

“It was a long project because it was just the two of us working on it,” said Mr. Hoeber. “It took about 9 months.”

The state-of-the-art tank set-up allows for optimum viewing, but also the ability to easily separate and quarantine tanks to control for parasites and disease. The store had its soft launch in July and grand opening on Sept. 21.

You’ll find the expected fish store fare at Super Cichlids: a full range of fish tanks, supplies and dry goods. However, Ms. Hoeber says they’re focused on a lot of unique inventory as well — such as premium food from suppliers like NorthFin and rare and endangered fish species like the Stomatepia mongo from Lake Barombi Mbo in Cameroon. By housing such livestock, they hope to develop the store as a combination of retail, educational aquarium, hobbyist destination and conservation center.

“We’re working on little write ups for the tanks so you can read about all the fish you’re looking at,” said Ms. Hoeber. “Many of the fish we have here are definitely not the ones you’d find at an average fish store. The Mongo is one of the rarest cichlids in the world – you have to get permission from the local tribe to even fish in the lake for them. We’re hoping to work with Girl and Boy Scouts and local schools to have them come in so we can teach kids all about fish – their feeding and breeding habits and how to care for them”

In addition to large national aquariums, Ms. Hoeber says private fish stores like hers also serve an important function in propagating endangered species, many of which now only exist in captivity. To this end, she has a few tanks dedicated to the CARES Preservation Program – a program to “create a base stock of conservation priority species through encouraging hobbyists worldwide to devote tank space to one or more species at risk and distribute offspring to fellow qualified hobbyists, while forming an information network between aquarists, scientists, and conservationists.”

“A lot of their natural environments have been polluted or destroyed, but by taking good care of them and breeding them, we can learn about them and they can continue on,” she said.

Though only open for a short time, the Hoebers already believe they’re making some headway in becoming a community destination for both hobbyist and novice. They’ve met with customers who come from as far away as Baltimore, New Jersey and Pennsylvania to marvel at their rare cichlids like the Star Sapphire or Super Red Empress.

“That’s just how the fish community is; there’s a lot of passion in it,” said Ms. Hoeber. “Nerds like me will just spend all day driving from fish store to fish store – hours in the car don’t matter.”

Super Cichlids can be found online at supercichlids.com/ or Facebook @ SuperCichlids. Walk-ins are encouraged at their location on 1055 Barl Court in Dover. Call 302-608-3846 for more information.

Delaware State News/Ian Gronau

Martin and Lisa Hoeber stand in the 15,000-gallon fish store, Super Cichlids, they opened in September.

Staff writer Ian Gronau can be reached at 741-8272 or igronau@newszap.com

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