This is the second installment of a two part post – check out last week’s Fly Shop Lost.
“Do you know what happened to the sporting goods store downtown on Main Street? It must have closed down about 15 years ago.”
She kept pouring my coffee, but the waitress gave me a look. It was an are you seriously asking me about a sporting goods store that closed down 15 years ago look. “Sorry honey,” she apologized insincerely. “I have no clue.”
“Do you have any idea of who might know anything about it?” I asked, trying to not sound crazy. “Like one of the other waitresses or one of the regulars.”
“I honestly have no clue. Why, do you know the people who owned it?” She seemed a little put off when I said I was from out of town and was just passing through. Maybe to escape the conversation, she said, “You could probably find business records at town hall.”
I wasn’t trying to figure out how much back taxes they owed or when they were incorporated. I just wanted to know why the fly shop closed down. The necessity wasn’t anything more than what I had made it. Nothing was riding on figuring out the fate of the business. All I was looking for was closure. But closure with a lower-case “c.” It wasn’t a big deal; it didn’t keep me up at night. I was just inquisitive because it was a loose end of a personal fly fishing strand.
Fly shops close down all the time. It is a difficult market. There are only so many dollars to make and only so many customers who will spend them. With one or two exceptions, every fly shop I frequented in the late 1990s and early 2000s is gone. Hearing about some of them going belly up made sense. You can’t succeed in spite of inherent challenges and yourself. Others were a shock.
This little sporting goods store/fly shop made sense inasmuch as it was a little sporting goods store/fly shop on a mildly depressed main street. But you sort of expect those kinds of stores to get by. They’ve found their niche. They’re part of the socioeconomic stasis of a small town. In the 21st century, community financial ecosystems rival coldwater resources when it comes to fragility.
Was it the outlying area’s massive subdivisions that forced operating costs to go out of whack downtown? Could the oft-quoted competitive pressure from big box stores and the internet have been the culprit? Did the owner retire? get tired? expire? Selfishly, the store closed at a very inopportune time. The turn of the century wasn’t quite the moment for the kind of comprehensive online documentation we’ve grown used to.
After breakfast, my family and I drove the few blocks to the main intersection. I stopped in front of the store. It was empty. Aside from the weathered and generic façade, which hadn’t changed much, there was nothing tying the storefront to the shop that was once there. No signs with illustrated trout jumping out of the water. No glass counter and display. Certainly, no acrylic fly box.
Ultimately, I suppose I’m content with the mystery. It is nothing more than an unanswered question borne of circumstance and curiosity. Like a fish pursued, hooked, fought, and lost before having it in hand, there is a lot to look back on with fondness. There is also some incompletion. Short of diving in and doing amateur detective work, I’m not going to know the fate of the shop or its owner.
But I’ll always remember buying my first fishing license. The countertop primer on how to use a topographic map. The antique metal fishing rod that my friend talked about buying for months, then actually bought. The first time someone offered to sell me a cigar. The first time someone told me where to go to avoid stocked trout. The explanation of jungle cock feathers and their significance. The hand drawn map to a spot up the mountain that included dirt roads that my little sedan had no business driving on… and being chastised when I came back in that I didn’t mention I drove a little sedan.
Those moments and memories don’t really represent losing a fly shop at all.