Monday, February 26, 2007

Death of a Fly Shop

Late last night I was taking a minute to cruise the Web to pursue a few fly-fishing Blogs before settling down to begin my first entry of the New Year. Given the mood of my last Blog, I was ready for a more light hearted topic. Typing into Google, Fly Fishing Blogs, I scanned the selected matches and clicked on what appeared to be a logical choice. Just a few sentences into the site I’d chosen that which makes life a small world hit me squarely right between the eyes.

Prior to opening Western Rivers Flyfisher a shop owner was open minded enough to sit down with me for an interview on the prospects of the fly-fishing business. The simple fact that this shop owner sat down with me, when most shop owners declined to be interviewed, speaks volumes to his character. His name was Gary Sandstrom, owner of Tacoma Washington’s, The Morning Hatch. We’d never met prior to our consultation, yet I’d felt liked I’d know him for some time. Graciously he entertained my probing questions regarding the intricacies of operating a successful fly-fishing business. These were early lessons I took to heart and appreciation.

Fortunately, this wasn’t our last encounter. In this small world we stumble through we unexpectedly crossed paths some years later at the end of a long corridor in a Florida airport. As I led my group to our final gate before departing for Belize City we came across several anglers preparing to depart for their own saltwater destination. Among those seated was Gary. Ironically he and his group were headed to the same tiny island as us.

To date I’ve never spent a week with such a group of pranksters. Morning one the vultures in his group had descended upon their first victim. They had Crazy Glued the poor guys rod tube zipper shut. While everyone else was ready to hit the flats, this angler was frantically attempting to extricate his entombed rods.

As the pranks piled up Gary’s group became so paranoid about their equipment, they began taking it with them wherever they went; breakfast, lunch and dinner. As the week went on and we all became more familiar with each other, we to started to consider the likelihood of falling victim to their shenanigans.

Small world we live in. To this day, I always get a smile on my face when I think of this week. I know I've never laughed so hard on a trip thanks to Gary and his traveling band of pranksters.

That was the first time our paths crossed since our initial meeting. As ironical as that fateful journey to Belize was, my Web browsing the other evening was equally as inauspicious.

The title of the piece I'd selected read;“ Support Your Local Fly Shop”. Authored by the local newspaper in disgruntlement to the recent trend of consumers seeking to save a little here and there on the internet. Or with the intrusion of Big Box and the impact they've had on our communities is often coming at the expense of specialty retailers; Support Your Local Fly Shop. Unfortunately for Tacoma fly rodders this critical editorial was too late for The Morning Hatch. After over twenty years of service Gary was closing his doors. I was shocked!

Having dedicated my life to the sport and business of fly-fishing I know the effort, sacrifices and commitment that’s required to stay in business for as long as he managed. I can only imagine the gamut of emotions he must have experienced in having to close his doors. He’s not alone. Another good fly shop and acquaintance of mine is being faced with similar circumstances. After years of struggles, he’s finally decided that there are better ways to make a living. Unfortunately many of our sports passionate personalities are leaving the business of fly-fishing. But, as the editorial eludes we are losing so much more.

I witnessed this same digression in the ski industry from the 70’s and 80’s. However, the Internet and e-Bay had yet to unleash it’s lethal effects on specialty retail. Today, with the Internet, the out sourcing of manufactured goods, Big Box being fueled by our insatiable appetite for cheaper products, I can’t help but see the path of fly shops and other specialty retailers traveling down the same road.

My whole adult life I’ve been attracted to specialty services and have support their efforts. And not just fly shops. Each service bears a unique personality that's set them apart from each other. A quality in retail and in the service sector that’s becoming more difficult to find across the country as larger conglomerates homogenize our shopping experience.

Sorry Gary. I for one appreciate all you’ve contributed to this great sport and our shrinking community. You’ll be missed.


Moldychum said...


I'm also sympathetic to Gary (the shop is 10 miles from my home) and the challenges of the specialty retailer. I also know, and I think you would agree, that in the current world of retail, strategic planning and sound business practices are essential to remain competitive. The Morning Hatch did not have an operational website, their merchandising was poor at best and their service was viewed by some as elitist. From a pure business standpoint they have not been competitive for some time.

IndianWmn Clark said...

I loved that shop and took three classes there..I was so inspired that I had a large Mayfly tatoo'd on my back shoulder...Great guy's. The gentleman instructing requested me to bring him some Fairy Shrimp from a Milton Pond and coming across some Youtube vids on them led me to your site. Sorry to hear their not there anymore.