STOCKTON — Memories could be seen in just about every nook and cranny of Baxter’s Bait and Tackle, along with congratulations, could be heard there Saturday afternoon.
Owners Blaine and Diane Baxter opened their doors for business for the last time Saturday, with a customer appreciation open house in the afternoon.
Well-wishers crowded the store’s narrow aisles in front and gathered in the back room where tea and cookies waited.
Blaine admitted he had fought back tears several times as he spoke with customers and community members throughout the day.
“It’s really hitting home,” he said of closing the business he’s run for 51 years.
He and his father ran Baxter’s Hardware and Electric until hard economic times in the 1980s forced them to sell out. Blaine and his wife opened the bait shop 29 years ago in the same location, and the store became well-known for its service and products among those who fish the area lakes.
“I make it a point to come here every time,” said Leon Dinkel, Hays.
“Everybody knows it as ‘Little Cabella’s,’ ” said Loren Goodheart, Stockton.
“They’ve got about anything you find in Kansas City here,” said Ron Bell, a former Stockton resident who now lives in Manhattan.
Bell and another former Stockton resident, Howard Diacon, Lawrence, own a weekend property in town.
“We try to stop in every time we’re in town, and that’s going to stop. We’re going to miss this place,” Bell said.
The shop was a frequent gathering place for coffee and talk throughout the day, as well as games of five-point pitch on the weekends. Several of the Baxters’ grandchildren played Saturday at a table in the center section of the store. Hundreds of joker cards pulled from the card decks are stapled to the low ceiling of the walkway nearby.
“We’ve went through a lot of cards through the years,” said oldest son Cash Baxter.
One of his brothers, Chauncey Baxter, said he spent more time at the store than at the family home when he was growing up.
“Ever since I was old enough to climb on the stool and run the cash register or count worms. There was always a job for somebody to do,” he said.
While he didn’t realize it at the time, he said he learned great lessons from his parents working at the store — show up for work, be on time, treat everybody the same.
Not that there wasn’t time for fun. Sister Jean Rohr, Russell, remembers her brothers chasing her through the store and down the block with crawdads.
Visitors also talked with the Baxters about the many antiques and collectibles displayed in the store, especially the back room. Wooden crates line shelves against one wall, old camping equipment and tools hang on the walls and from the ceiling. Signs and items from area businesses could be seen, including a 1950s ordering stand from Russell’s A&W. The upper floors of the business and space at home is also full of items, the family said.
“Anything that would catch his interest, he buys,” Rohr said.
Blaine said much of the antiques and collectibles will be auctioned off, probably in spring, but there will be a few things he keeps.
“We’ll probably sell a lot of stuff — I have no room at home,” Blaine said with a laugh, “but the Indian artifacts I’m taking home.”
Shadow boxes displayed a variety of arrow heads, many collected on rare times away from the store with his children.
The Baxters have worked nearly every day, 14 hours a day, in the 29 years they’ve owned the bait shop, and even before then, they said. When their children were old enough and still at home to run the business in their place, they took a day off here and there.
But now it’s time to slow down, Diane said. She plans work on family history, cross stitching and time with the grandchildren. Blaine said he plans to travel every road in Rooks County and take time to fish.
And while residents are sad to see the store close, they spoke of hope it will re-open.
“Hopefully they’ll get it sold,” Goodheart said. “It’s a real opportunity with the lakes here this close.
“It won’t be the same, but it will be a vibrant business and it will be good for the community.”