End of an Era?

fly shop
The modern era: Not exactly the look of fly shops from the past.

by Scott Sadil

I’m tying and photographing flies against a book deadline when I discover I’ve run out of some space-age Gucci-blue material that nothing in my store of supplies, stashed in two different  bedrooms in my little three-bedroom house, comes close to matching.

Morning work hours, no good options but to run to the shop.

Not the old one downtown. Travis is gone, leaving behind a corner at the primo intersection for an industrial park far up the valley, where he’s got warehouse space for goods for online sales, now the bulk of his business.

But we’ve still got the so-called new guys, hidden away on the third floor of the old fruit-packing plant, who’ve kept their single, all-but-hidden door open despite the pandemic and their own focus on online sales.

Or so I thought until, after finding street parking in front of the Tofurky plant, entering the packing building and climbing two flights of stairs, I discover the door of the fly shop locked. 

I peer through the slit of glass embedded in the metal door; inside, computers and dangling wires, not a rod or fly bin or anything resembling a hackle neck far as the eye can see.

First thought: Another one bites the dust.

Then: And it’s all your fault.

Really?

Well, sort of.

You know the story: For all the right reasons, many of us have taken to buying certain fly tying materials – and in some cases a whole lot more – from online suppliers. 

fly shop
Will online sales make small town fly shops obsolete?

Search, click, cart, confirm – and in no time at all there it is, delivered to door or mailbox without so much as searching for the truck keys, much less a mask.

The pandemic, of course, is only part of it.

And just like that, I think, driving home, we no longer have a place to grab, in a pinch, some hooks or tippet material, much less somewhere to hold and handle precious furs and feathers, inspecting firsthand for shade or tone or texture or other qualities, not to mention a chance to shoot the scheisse with friendly folks or, better still, suss out some inside dope on what’s been working on those snooty fish in the Mother Dog Hole. 

Back home, I locate my phone.  

(Okay, it’s true: I belong to the Old Guard.  I don’t carry a phone with me wherever I go, especially not to the writing office, tying bench, or boat shop.)  

(And it’snot smart, either.)

Meanwhile, a real person is out there talking into my ear.

“We just moved to a new building – next to the micro brewery.”

Hallelujah.

I vow to be a better person.

The shop is still difficult to find, little more than a sign and a door you might enter in search of plumbing parts or a body repair shop.  Stepping in, I recall the place a buddy of mine opened years ago in the next town upriver, a soulful, artsy place set in a remodeled hundred year-old house, with stained woodwork and antique gear and delicate paintings, plus fresh coffee always brewing in the kitchen.

Great shop: Sadly, before going under, it cost the guy his life’s savings, his retirement, and a large portion of his political goodwill.

Grazing in the here and now, I inspect a few short rows of sparsely-stocked display racks, failing to find what I’m looking for.  But a couple of plastic packets reveal synthetic fibers, in shades of blue, that will do.  

Beyond the racks, I spot three guys sorting through stacks of small drawers, gathering flies, I presume, for online orders.  

Yet there are honest-to-god hackle necks also on display, hanging from hooks, ready for inspection.

I ask the clerk about a breeder’s famous soft-hackle hen necks.

He shakes his head.  

“Our suppliers are short of everything.  We just take whatever they send.”

I slide my card into the machine and promise I’ll be back.

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Gray’s Angling Editor Scott Sadil feels fortunate to still have a genuine hardware store, as well, within five minutes from home.