The minute you walk into Minnesota Bait and Fly, you feel like you’ve stepped back in time.
Inside the downtown Kansas City, Kansas, shop, you’re greeted by chirping crickets and the hum of the aerator pumping oxygen into the minnow tanks. A steady stream of customers waits to buy bait from refrigerators filled with worms tucked away in the back.
There are no frills, bling or slick fliers announcing sales; there’s just a modest shop filled to the brim with bait and tackle — something right out of a Norman Rockwell painting.
“The days of the local bait shop are about gone,” says Fred Jobe, 61, who along with his wife, Jan, owns the shop. “It’s hard to compete with the big box stores for tackle. But when it comes to bait, we still have a pretty big following. We’ve filled a lot of minnow buckets and sold a lot of worms over the years.”
Minnesota Bait and Fly isn’t alone. Scattered across the Kansas City area, a handful of bait shops have quietly survived from a bygone era, doing business the old-fashioned way.
It’s not easy to run a bait shop these days, when so many fishermen shop online or at Walmart. The folks who own these five shops are all retirement age, but they stay in the business out of passion for the people they serve.
Minnesota Bait and Fly
1124 Minnesota Ave., Kansas City, Kan.
Look closely at the corner of the mural of a fisherman fighting a leaping bass on the side of Minnesota Bait and Fly, and you’ll see “Since 1961” tucked in the corner of the artwork.
The shop was opened by Rudy Zurbuchen as a place to promote his popular catfish bait, Bee-Jay stink bait, a smelly concoction made with a secret recipe.
Jan Jobe, Rudy’s daughter, grew up in the bait business. Fred joined her when they started dating in 1974. The Jobes bought the business in 1993, and their son Eric now serves as general manager.
Today, the shop not only does retail business but also wholesales bait to about 25 smaller shops. “We know a lot of our customers by name,” Jan says. “They’re almost like family.”
Wyandotte Marina Boathouse
91st Street and Leavenworth Road, Kansas City, Kan.
Even at age 71, Denny Porterfield just can’t bring himself to retire.
Porterfield has worked at the little brick building on Wyandotte County Lake for most of his life. He planned to retire when he was 55, but “they wouldn’t let me.”
Just about everyone who fishes on Wyandotte Lake knows Porterfield, who keeps close tabs on how and where the fish are biting. He operates a pay dock that’s a popular gathering spot for fishermen, who sit on the benches swapping stories. The shop’s interior decor features dusty mounts of fish caught at Wyandotte, a collection of old bobbers Porterfield retrieved from the lake and photos of fishermen who caught lake-record fish.
Forty Woods Bait and Tackle
3995 E. U.S. 40, Blue Springs, Mo.
Mark Hill, 63, readily admits he doesn’t work as hard as he once did. And he’s glad of it.
“When we first opened, we tried to stay open 24 hours a day,” says Hill, co-owner of Forty Woods. “One time, I worked 32 straight hours.”
Today, Forty Woods is open a more reasonable 14 hours on weekends and 12 hours on weekdays during the heart of the fishing season. And few days go by when it isn’t busy.
Hill and his uncle, Sam Fish, built the business in 1980, feeding off excitement about then-new Blue Springs Lake. It wasn’t long before customers from Blue Springs, Jacomo, Longview and Tapawingo lakes were streaming through the door.
Not much has changed over the years. Fish has passed away, but Hill and co-owner Todd Rentfro, who lives in Florida, still run a business that is a throwback to the old days.
Blue Parkway Bait and Pet Supplies
6921 Blue Parkway, Kansas City, Mo.
When Wesley Poke opened his business in 1981 his plan was to make a living off his two hobbies: fishing and raising dogs.
“I figured I would have the bait business for spring, summer and early fall, and the dog food business for the winter,” says Poke, 71.
Thirty-seven years later, that business plan still works. The shop, which is divided into two sides, is crammed full of bait, fishing tackle, bags of dog food and pet supplies. When fishermen walk into the bait shop, they are greeted by a mount of a school of huge crappies hovered near a stump, donated by customers.
Inter-City Bait and Tackle
8903 U.S. 24, Independence, Mo.
You’ll miss this place if you blink when traveling down Route 24 in Independence.
Set just off the road, the modest rock building doesn’t stand out, save for a banner of Elmer Fudd with a fishing pole.
But the locals know the place well. Inter-City Bait and Tackle has been around for more than 50 years, and it has built a loyal clientele.
Jimmy Hardman, who owns the business along with his wife, Mary Byrom, attributes the shop’s devoted following to the neighborly service they provide.
“One time, a guy came in and wanted to take his kid fishing,” Hardman says. “He wanted to buy some night crawlers, and he only had $1.80 in change. No big deal. I gave him two dozen worms, and he went out of here happy.”
Those interactions are what keep Hardman and Byrom in the business.
“They came back in and told me about all of the fish they caught,” he says. “That made it worth it.”