No matter how you measure it, Tochterman’s Fishing Tackle is a keeper. The shop in Baltimore’s Fells Point is one of only a few fishing tackle shops in the country located in a major city and among the 12 percent of family-run businesses in the country to be viable in its third generation.
On Monday, the store will celebrate 100 years in a single location.
“Not for one moment have I thought about doing anything but this,” said Tony Tochterman, whose grandfather, Thomas, opened the store in 1916. “At 66, I’m up an hour before I have to every morning just because my wife and I love doing this.”
Tochterman has been running the store since 1981. His father, Thomas Jr., ran the store for 45 years before that.
Tochterman’s has attracted customers from all walks of life over the years, from neighborhood kids to Arab sheiks.
Henry Bolling, 72, has been coming to Tochterman’s for more than 50 years. As a child, he would bring his allowance to the shop, even if he only had a dime in his pocket.
“I’ve had credit here since I was nine years old,” he said.
It’s that level of customer loyalty that has kept Tochterman’s neon lights on for a century.
“What we have found is that the reason we are still here is because of the loyalty of our customers,” said Tochterman.
When you walk into the store, either Tochterman, or his wife, Dee, is there to greet customers.
“Customer service, customer service, customer service. You can’t say it enough,” said Dee Tochterman.
The personalized attention keeps the business competitive against online retailers. The store has a website but doesn’t sell any products online.
“Our business is growing. We’re growing because the fact that there are so many other stores going out of business,” said Tony Tochterman.
Large retailers such as Wal-Mart have reduced their inventory of fishing tackle gear over the years due to its low profit margins.
“If I sold everything on that wall this week, I would make, say, $400,” said Tochterman, pointing to a wall of fly-tying materials. “They [big retailers] can’t afford that kind of space. But if a guy needs that, there’s no other substitute. You gotta have that.”
Even with Tochterman’s staying busy, the fishing world as a whole is having trouble, particularly with getting young people involved in the sport.
“Because of the electronics, they’re not spending as much time outside,” said Tochterman. “By getting into fishing, it’s much more one on one with nature, and they have to go out and they have to turn that damn phone off.”
Tochterman works with Baltimore’s Department of Recreation and Parks to provide free fishing bait to its youth fishing program. His business was honored at the annual Mayor’s Business Recognition Awards luncheon last year for its service.
Once a child goes fishing, they understand the thrill, said Tochterman.
“If you have ever seen a child fishing and you see him catch his first fish, it’s an expression on his face that you will never ever, ever get. He won’t get that from his first hit of a baseball, first basket in basketball from a lacrosse (stick), tennis racket, nothing.”
Since the Tochtermans don’t have any children of their own, it’s likely that someday the store will, for the first time, be run by someone outside the family. But they’re in no hurry to figure that out. Initially, Tochterman planned on retiring after the store hit its 100th year, but last month’s snow storm made him reconsider that decision. By the time the Tochtermans were snowed in for three days, Tony couldn’t take it anymore. He has since decided that he won’t retire but will take some time off – and maybe go fishing.
“My future is here,” he said. “I don’t care about 10 years from now, 20 years from now. I care about my family and my family are my customers.”
In the long term, Tochterman still wonders about the future of his family’s store and whether he is OK with a someone who is not a Tochterman running the business.
“Do I have a problem with a family member not being here? No. But I have a problem with it not being handled as if this was their family’s business,” he said. “If he runs it like a moneymaking machine, the business won’t last. Because you can go anywhere and buy a fishing rod. You gotta have a personal touch there. You gotta care about the customer.”
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