Going Out of Business After 40-years

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We opened The Fly Fishing Shop April 21, 1981, when we were in our thirties.

Now we are in our seventies, and it is time to retire while we are in good health.

Patty and I have owned The Fly Fishing Shop for 40 of the 44 years we have been together. It has been a wild boom and bust ride with fluctuating economies and up and down fish runs. It would have been easier if fish runs and economics were a predictable and in steady incline, at say about 10%, but neither ever have been nor never will be.

I was a cutting torch operator dismantling ships when Patty and I joined forces. We were both single parents. She had two children, I had four. A couple of months after we started hanging out together the shipyard went on strike. Patty had grown up in Lincoln City on the coast and owned a rental house there. It needed some maintenance and I offered to help. We packed the kids into an old Pontiac station wagon and spent the next ten days repairing the house. One thing led to another, and we finally bought a house large enough for a family of eight. I went to work for a sporting goods retailer in Gresham for the next four years and wound up managing the place. A recession came along, and my job ended in 1979. For the first time in my life, I couldn’t find a job. That went on for a while, and we decided to start our own business.

We had no money no education and nowhere to start. Looking back at it we were very naïve. But we had guts, determination, and a great partnership. I had been a hobby fly tyer since very young. The kids and I did regular fly tying sessions on the dining room table.

It took a little over a month for me and the six children to build the initial inventory of flies to open a rudimentary retail fly store. In the meantime, we were able to locate a little building where we could start a business. The building was in bad disrepair. It had a good location right on highway 26 in Welches, less than a quarter of a mile from our final building which just sold. It was about 350 square feet divided into four rooms with no plumbing, heat, or insulation, but with a two foot diameter hole in the roof. We made a deal with the landowner that we would fix the hole and turn it in to a usable building and pay $35 a month for four years. Fixing the hole was easy, and we took out all the partitions, installed a couple of big beams at the peak of the roof, turning it into a vaulted ceiling, installed a wood stove, and it became a cute rustic little show room for fly fishing supplies.

Through the 1980s the neighborhood fishery was beyond imagination, fueled by hatchery summer steelhead stocked as smolts by the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife. These fish returned from the ocean averaging six to over twenty pounds. The prodigious runs of big fish pumped about 2+ million dollars into our community, and about one fifth of it whet through our store. Our location was made in heaven. Movie stars such as Lindsay Wagner and Clint Eastwood bought vacation homes in the area. They had many friends who were fly fishers. The Hollywood crowd were good tippers. The hatchery summer steelhead runs were great economic boosters, but many conservationists felt they caused genetic problems for wild fish and ODFW ended the program in the early 1990s. I asked the only PhD geneticist I know what he thought about the situation. His only reply was, “How would you design a study to prove it either way”? When the summer steelhead run went away it took a lot of tourist appeal with it. In 1981 Welches wanted to turn itself into something like Aspen or Sun Valley but evolved into something less upscale instead.

Our business grew steadily through the 1980s. In 1992 the movie, A River Runs Through It hit the big screen with an all-star cast. Suddenly everyone wanted to go fly fishing. Steelhead runs in other regional rivers were huge through the early 2000s. And we were perfectly positioned. We were the gang who knew how to catch steelhead with flies. Everybody loved us. We were the first fly shop in the USA to have a web site in 1995. By 1999 we installed a shopping cart. One of the goals in our original business plan was to draw world trade in our first 20 years. In 2000 we were shipping products globally. Our retail sales exploded. We took exotic fishing vacations a couple of times a year, visiting places like Kamchatka, Belize, Bahamas, Florida Keys, Texas Gulf Coast, Southern Mexico, and Sea of Cortez. Business became awesome by 2001. In 2008 we made our largest monthly gains ever in the first three quarters. Then the economy tanked because the largest banking houses filled their portfolios with worthless investments and the bottom dropped out of the economy fostering the worst downturn since the great depression. By the end of 2009 we had lost 40% of our business, equal to our best five years of growth. Google went on a mobile friendly kick. They started punishing sites that weren't mobile-friendly. The “load-big-pictures-fast” static site, which had taken us to the top couldn’t cope with the change. We needed a completely different platform. We had known it was coming and planned for it. The upgrade was budgeted and planned for the winter of 2009. But the recession and resulting drop in business killed the budget, so the upgrade had to be postponed. When we finally were able to get the new platform installed it was during the winter of 2014. The upgrade didn't go well, taking way to long, resulting in a serious drop in customer confidence and further drop in market share. And in 2014 steelhead runs started a serious decline that might have ended with the 2021 season and the worst Columbia Basin runs in recorded history. 2019 brought Covid-19, which precipitated global supply chain problems. Both Covid in all its varieties will end and the supply chain issues will be corrected. It is already starting. The 2021Coho salmon runs in Oregon were some of the bests ever. So far 2022 winter steelhead runs on coastal and local streams have been very strong. A new ten year cycle is starting, and whoever owns The Fly Fishing Shop and flyfishusa.com will make a lot of money and have a lot of fun doing it.

Thank you, and good luck to everyone!

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