I must agree that the "big box" pet stores lack when it comes to hiring well versed employees. One must remember that these stores are in business for one thing and one thing only .......sales. I must challenge their ethics when it comes to the subject of furthering the hobby. I think that they have soured more people on fish keeping than they have helped the hobby grow.
The "ma and pa" stores, on the other hand, have been the backbone of the hobby and will continue to be there. Most started because of a love for the hobby. They realize that their reputation puts food on the table and a roof over their head. Most develop a relationship with those of us that frequent their business. I, personally, will visit a smaller shop before entering a Petco or PetSmart when it comes to purchasing aquatic supplies or livestock. I actually have the owners of four of the shops visit me for BS sessions and coffee. Sometimes they even furnish the doughnuts.
As far as seeking information, those "big box" stores are at the bottom of my list. They have developed this reputation and will continue to sleep in their own dung until such time they realize the error of their ways and fix it. They will have a long row to hoe to regain the confidence of the hobby. I think that I would call my auto mechanic for assistance before calling PetCo or PetSmart. At least he is honest enough to say, "I don't know."
My heart goes out to those of you that have no other option than to shop these "big box" stores. I would bet that many of you do have an option if you would seek it out. Many shop PetSmart and PetCo out of convenience. That convenience includes saving money, which in the long run costs us our sanity and even more money to fix any problems. Some shop these larger chains because we don't want to drive an extra 30 minutes to visit "Papa Fish's Aquarium Shop". Forget the 30 minutes and enjoy the ride.
I am spoiled and blessed to have the benefit of 5-6 shops within a 30 minute drive. These folks deserve my business and what's more, I deserve their dedication to the hobby and their service. I have never had a problem that they didn't fix to MY satisfaction. Whether it be a fish that died or a product that didn't meet my expectations, they took care of me and my fish.
There are exceptions. There are some unscrupulous "ma and pa" stores. But these do not hang around long. Four of my lfs's have been in business for over 35 years. Two are nearing 50 years, while the two youngest have been around for at least 15 years. Like I said before, I am blessed. I have visited some small stores that did not meet my standards, I haven't been back. And, to add a note, they aren't around any longer either.