Closure of Seattle tackle shop sign of changing times
SEATTLE — There was a time when small, locally owned tackle shops dotted the downtown Seattle landscape, a sight that would make Starbucks jitter with envy.
Before and through most of the 20th century, places such as Linc’s Tackle Shop, a mom-and-pop operation on the corner of Rainier Avenue and King Street, were gathering places, like an old barber shop where people would exchange fish tales.
Now closure is looming for this nostalgic tackle shop — one of a handful remaining in greater Puget Sound region. It is a victim of age and modern times.
Small, family owned establishments and local department stores served a loyal customer base, and they were an extended family of sorts, bound by their passion for fishing and hunting.
The stores’ owners and employees were willing to share their secret spots or dish out advice, whether or not you bought any fishing gear.
The 1930s were the hey-day of salmon fishing in the Puget Sound area, with 22 boathouses lining the shores of Elliott Bay and Shilshole Bay, and competition between these tackle shops was fierce.
Mas Tahara — author of “Tales Told by Fishermen & Women of the Tengu Club of Seattle,” a chronicle about the longest-running fishing derby — noted there were eight tackle stores operated by Japanese-Americans in 1936 within a three-block radius in Seattle.
They included Togo’s Tackle Shop on Third Avenue and James Street, Tokyo Fishing Tackle on Third Avenue, Mitsuwado on Main Street, Chikata Drug Store on Jackson Street, Seattle Fishing Tackle on Third Avenue, Tashiro Hardware on Prefontaine, Toyo Fishing Tackle on Jackson Street and Okuda/Shigaki on Main Street.
Even department stores such as Frederick & Nelson on Fifth Avenue and Pine Street (now occupied by the flagship Nordstrom store) had a large section of an upper-level floor devoted to fishing and hunting gear.
Other well-known businesses were Warshal’s Sporting Goods on Madison Street, Osborn & Ulland on Seneca Street, Eddie Bauer on Union Street, Ben Paris Recreational Parlor on Westlake Avenue and three stores on Rainier Avenue — Grayson & Brown Hardware, Sportsland and Chubby & Tubby.
These tackle stores slowly disappeared between the 1970s and 1990s when salmon runs began to dwindle. Lately, others were unable to compete with the big-box stores, such as Cabela’s and Bass Pro Shops, and websites.
UNIQUE CUSTOMER SERVICE
At Linc’s Tackle Shop, 77-year-old Jerry Beppu and his wife Maria, 73, greet every customer with a smile. They have run the business for nearly 40 years, and it represents more than a place to buy a box of lively, squirmy worms.
The tackle shop, which is closing March 26, managed to keep its head above the turbulent water and is known for its customer service.
“There aren’t many shops like ours around anymore,” Jerry said. “When a customer comes through our door we try to send them away with some knowledge so they can catch a fish instead of just selling them a lure or a box of hooks. I think that is what most of them appreciated about our store.”
It’s an emphasis they have carried on since Jerry’s father “Linc” ran the business. He opened the store more than 67 years ago.
Kris Kosugi of Bellevue, a longtime customer of the tackle shop, fondly recalls the unique service he received from Linc many years ago.
“As a teenager I wanted to build a salmon rod, and Linc took the time to show me how to tie the eyes and cork it,” Kosugi said. “Being a kid, I didn’t think anything about it, but now realize how special that was for me. I also remember him making a custom bait knife and putting my name on the side. Those are special times I’ll never forget.”
Selling live worms, maggots and other frozen baits never were money-drivers for these family owned sport-fishing businesses.
The Beppu family also had a unique business repairing reels and spooling them with fresh fishing line, tying custom-made fishing leaders with sharp hooks and making custom-built rods. All are features you won’t find at other stores where many products are mass produced overseas.
Soon the property where the tackle shop resides will make way for a multi-level office building.
Some small tackle shops still remain in operation, such as Ted’s Sports Center and Ed’s Surplus & Marine in Lynnwood, John’s Sporting Goods in Everett and Patrick’s Fly Shop in Seattle.
“LINC” TO SEATTLE FISHING HISTORY
Looking for better opportunities in America, the Beppu family emigrated from Japan in 1905, and to show their patriotic pride named their four sons after U.S. presidents: Lincoln, Taft, Grant and Monroe. They also had a sister, Hiroko.
Born in 1912, Linc’s career in sport-fishing began when he was a freshman at Broadway High School in 1925. He worked part time at Togo’s Tackle Shop, and at the time he wasn’t fond of fishing.
“I was more interested in baseball and basketball,” Linc said in a 1992 interview with The Times. “It was just a job. The owner of the store would take me fishing all the time. That’s how I started getting into the sport.”
Almost a decade later, at the height of the Great Depression, Linc was offered ownership of the tackle shop. The owner drowned while fishing; his widow, after trying to operate the business for a few years, decided to sell it and move back to Japan.
On Dec. 7, 1941, Pearl Harbor was attacked while Linc and friends were skiing near Mount Rainier. It was a day that changed the lives of 120,000 Japanese-Americans along the West Coast.
In spring of 1942, like other Japanese-Americans who lived in the Seattle area, Linc and his family were forced into internment at Camp Minidoka in southeastern Idaho, leaving behind businesses and precious personal belongings.
“Dad (Linc) made a large purchase filling up the store (with fishing tackle and ski equipment),” Jerry said. “Shortly after getting all the merchandise he had to do a liquidation of all the equipment.”
While interned, Linc worked as area coordinator in Minidoka and later on a farm harvesting sugar beets.
Near the end of the war after being released from Minidoka, he took his family to Nebraska to work as a civilian in Army Ordnance for two years, and then he brought his family back to a much different Seattle.
Linc took a job as manager and janitor of the Saint George Hotel at 14th and Yesler Way. His passion for fishing did not wane, and he set up a small workshop in the hotel’s basement, making cane rods, tying fishing leaders and cutting herring that he sold to local tackle shops.
In 1950, Linc opened his tackle shop using money he had from an insurance policy. Jerry and Maria took over when Linc retired in the late 1980s.
FAMILY LEGACY COMING TO AN END
When Linc’s door closes for the last time, the couple plans to spend more time traveling, taking care of grandchildren and possibly getting them hooked on fishing.
Carrying on the tackle shop’s legacy wasn’t going to be a part of the family’s future.
“For the generation now it is not the type of business that can support a family, and I’m glad our kids (two sons and a daughter) are where they’re at right now,” Maria said.
Their oldest son, Salvador Panelo, owns Seattle Fish Guys, a seafood market on 23rd Avenue South located just a few miles east of the tackle shop.
“Our fish we had mounted is now on the wall at (Seattle Fish Guys), which is nice,” Maria said. “A lot of people go there, see the fish and say, ‘Oh this was from Linc’s.’ They make the connection.”
Having a part of the Linc’s Tackle Shop legacy nearby makes Maria and Jerry smile with pride.
“It will be a keepsake for the family and community, too,” Maria said. “We have no regrets, and everything is good mind-wise. If it was up to Jerry, he would work another 20 years.”