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New store has family approach

Anglers and hunters know that bait and tackle shops come and go.

Supplying live bait and stocking just the right gear and gadgets to catch fish and get game can be daunting. Factor in the hours of a working day, week and seasons plus competing against volume sales of big-box stores. With all these pressures many a well-known shop, such as Penrod's in South Buffalo, closes.

One of the most outstanding outdoors stores area sportsmen and women recall was Caps Fishing and Hunting. The famed 1551 Niagara Falls Blvd. location and a satellite store at 5445 Transit Road drew many customers who generated countless tales of trips and tries at catching fish and game.

Steve "Hawk" Hawkins began the first Caps store in 1983 next to the Goldome on Sheridan Drive. For more than a decade that store name was the ultimate source for outdoors gear and info. Hawkins forwarded an email recently recalling that business venture. His note was prompted by an encounter with a former customer that inspired and heartened his interest in reentering the fishing and hunting business.

Hawkins wrote, "The spark that ignited the crazy idea of opening a store occurred at the Pepsi Center (now the Northtown Center) about two years ago.

"I was wearing my old Caps jacket and waiting for my son Robert to finish hockey practice when the tap on my shoulder occurred. It was an old customer from the store who said, 'Now there's a collectors item.' He continued to say he missed the store because 'you guys were really into it' and that 'nobody cares anymore,' referring to the giant box stores where your voice echoes off the basketball backboard in hopes of at least getting someone from the sneaker department to assist you.

"He then said, 'You saved my son's life,' and continued to say that his son was 13 at the time and was into every drug and bad habit you could imagine, including hanging out with 16 to 19 year olds. The dad said his son was in some bad car wrecks, in the ICU more than once. He said, 'We thought we were going to lose him and didn't know how to control it. I dragged my son to your Caps for Kids Program. You told my son [about] a secret fishing hole that he could catch just about every type of fish that swims in Lake Erie. My wife took him there with two of his no-good friends the next day, they also got hooked and from that day on all my son wanted to do was get dropped off after school somewhere to fish.'

"Then the punch line came out just after the father's eyes filled up. He said, 'My son is going to be 29 years old tomorrow, he is very successful in Philadelphia and is coming home tomorrow with my only grandson and we're going fishing.' He then put his hand out and gave me a bear grip handshake as he said 'thank you.' I also got a bit mushy and couldn't respond with anything but a smile."

Hawkins began the first Caps store in a recession, so the idea of starting an outdoors store today was within his challenge range. A potential partner named Bob showed interest in the venture, so Hawkins filed the business name as "Captain Bob's Outdoors" to include a reference to the former Caps store.

The partner dropped out, but Hawkins continued to develop the idea of a store that not only sold bait and tackle but also tackled the difficulties of recruiting kids more interested in video gaming than the pursuit of fish and game.

While pricing items comparable with big box stores and setting up sales areas for consignment tackle items, Hawkins is also coordinating seminar gatherings for families in an effort to involve both kids and their parents/caregivers in going outdoors and getting the handle of a fishing rod and reel.

For example, he is setting up a seminar program for Scouthaven Camp in Freedom stressing family involvement in fishing. Hawkins opened his new store last week at 10295 Main St. in Clarence right next to Don George's Sports Center in the George's Court.

At the entrance is the store's motto: "Keeping families together, one fish at a time." Entrants will know this is a big fishing store upon viewing the shark mounting high on the wall near the door.

Hawkins is high on expanding his seminar program, which requires adults accompany kids participating in the instructional activities.

To sign on with a presentation for set up a seminar series at a club or gathering site, check with Hawkins at 984-6956.