When Rick Warren and his father opened Warren’s Bait Box in 1970, Rick was only 19.
Now on the cusp of 60, Warren has spent most of his adult life at the small concrete building off Baltimore Annapolis Boulevard in Glen Burnie, selling bait and tackle to anglers as they head off to fish the Chesapeake Bay and Magothy and Severn rivers.
The shop has provided his family a good, but simple, life, Warren said.
“We never became millionaires, but we made a decent living,” he said.
After a couple of rough years caused by a sour economy and increased competition from the giant retailer Bass Pro Shop at Arundel Mills mall, Warren plans to close his business after March. He has marked down the merchandise 50 percent in an attempt to liquidate inventory.
In its best years, Warren’s could take in $250,000 annually. Now, the shop is about $15,000 in the hole, Warren said.
While in talks to sell the shop, the married father of two seems fairly certain the Warrens won’t be involved much longer.
Warren’s Bait Box is known by local fishermen for high-quality live grass shrimp, blood worms and minnows, as well as its selection of hand-tied lures. Warren said he will continue to sell bait wholesale.
“With the way the economy has gone the past couple of years, the days of the mom and pop stores are just about done,” Warren said.
For longtime customer Chris Eckstorm, 41, of Glen Burnie, Warren’s provided something more than just bait and tackle.
“[Rick] was very personable, very helpful, he’d give you little tips and advice,” Eckstorm said.
Those tips included the best local fishing spots as well as advice on lures and tackle, he said.
“It was well worth what you paid for the bait,” Eckstorm said.
Ron Hill, 52, of Ferndale has shopped at Warren’s for 20 years.
“I think it’s going to hurt a lot of local fishermen,” Hill said. “When [Warren] tells you something about fishing … he’s telling you from experience.”
Warren’s Bait Box started with a few minnow traps.
Growing up in Baltimore County, Rick spent plenty of time outdoors hunting and fishing with his father, Orville. Around 9 or 10, Rick began setting up minnow traps to get fresh bait.
Pretty soon, he had more minnows than he could use. So, Orville came up with a proposition.
“Dad said, ‘Listen, to make a few extra dollars, why don’t you talk to some of the tackle stores and see if you can sell ’em,'” Warren said.
It turned out to be a lucrative proposition. Rick began selling bait to tackle stores in Landsdowne, Brooklyn and Glen Burnie.
One customer was a sporting goods store off Baltimore Annapolis Boulevard. One day in 1970, the Warrens told the shopkeeper to let them know if he ever thought about selling the store. Within two weeks, the shop owner did just that.
“Me and him, we decided let’s give it a crack,” Warren said.
The first few years were rough. The shop’s income had to support two families — Orville and his wife, Mary, as well as Rick and his wife.
Rick took a second job even as he continued trapping bait for his shop.
After a few years, the business grew enough to support both families and Rick gave up his job to work at the shop full time. By then, Orville was working six days a week, opening before dawn and closing up in the evenings.
“His father, when he was alive, always said, ‘Tell ’em the truth — tell ’em where you fish and how you fish,'” Mary said.
In turn, Orville asked that his customers be honest with him.
“He always said, ‘Don’t steal anything. Ask, and we’ll give it to you,'” Mary said.
The store was at its peak in the mid-’80s when Orville died after a year-long bout with cancer.
With Orville gone, Rick and his mother became even more committed, spending the majority of their waking hours at the shop over the years.
At age 85, the prospect of closing up has been particularly rough on Mary. Many customers, who call her Mom, have become be good friends over the years.
“They’re like my family,” she said.
In addition, conversations in the shop about the best places to troll for rockfish on the bay have blossomed into close friendships.
“We shared a lot of times together,” said Eckstorm, who has become one of Warren’s fishing buddies. “It’s more upsetting for me than just losing a bait store.”