STOCKTON — After 51 years of business in the same location on Main Street, Blaine and Diane Baxter will close the door to their shop Saturday.
It’s hard not to find Baxter’s Bait and Tackle with the red storefront, a sign reading “Live Nude Fishbait” above the door and an American flag on a pole near the curb at 425 Main.
Inside can be found displays of fishing rods and reels, bait, clothing, knives, hunting decoys, bird calls — just about anything an outdoors enthusiast needs.
But there’s also been much more inside those walls that can’t be bought.
For the Baxters, Saturday’s customer appreciation open house from 2 to 4 p.m. will be more like saying goodbye to family.
“It’s been a family affair,” Blaine said Thursday.
From the morning “coffee table” and afternoon chit-chats with local friends to providing outdoors supplies to visitors from all over the country, the store has built a loyal fan base.
“We get Christmas cards from all over and we’ve got people we’ve dealt with from the day we opened,” he said.
“We’ve got as many customers in Hays, Dodge City, Garden City, La Crosse, all the way around as we do local,” he said.
Part of the reason for that is Stockton’s proximity to several lakes, Blaine said, but it’s also because the store is known to be dependable.
“If you set hours and said you’d be here, you were here,” he said.
It’s part of the work ethic he and Diane passed on to their children.
“We raised five kids in here. Our kids all got their education. They got work ethics plus a college degree,” he said.
“They learned one thing. You showed up for work, you’re polite to the customers whether you liked them or not. You met them at door. You treated them like they was No. 1 and you treated them fair,” Blaine said.
The business didn’t start as a bait and tackle shop. Blaine was in the electrical business when he and his father bought a hardware store in 1966. In fact, officially the business is still called by that name.
“If you look in the phone book now, we still go by Baxter Hardware and Electric,” Blaine said with a laugh. “Rather than change all of the paperwork for the feds and sales tax and everything, we’re just Baxter Hardware and Electric, but if you look on the door it’s Baxter’s Bait and Tackle.”
That change came about in the economic downturn of the 1980s, when they nearly went broke with the hardware and electrical business.
“I just salvaged the one building into the bait business,” Blaine said.
Part of the decision to close came earlier this year, when Bass Pro Shops closed down its wholesale division that sold to independent retailers.
“There’s other suppliers, but at our age and health, to look up other suppliers wasn’t what we felt like we needed to do,” said Blaine, who just turned 74.
He said there is some interest for buyers for the shop, however.
“The business may be shut down for a few months, and then maybe continue at this location, hopefully under this name,” he said.
In the meantime, he and Diane will take a couple of weeks off, he said, then open the shop again for a liquidation sale and an auction for the many antiques he’s collected.
And, like many people this time of year, Blaine has a set a goal for himself.
“My goal is to hit every road in Rooks County. I want to see exactly what I missed in our own area,” he said. “And when I get done I may do Ellis County.”
And, of course, there will be one other thing he plans to do.
“Go back to fishing every day,” he said.