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A Ruskin ‘mom & pop’ store supersizes

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image Larry and Barbara Chalmers, owners of South Shore Bait and Tackle in Ruskin, standing in their new store, which will open June 4. Mitch Traphagen Photo

At its new location to open June 4, South Shore Bait and Tackle will be one of Tampa Bay’s largest tackle stores.

By MITCH TRAPHAGEN

RUSKIN — South Shore Bait & Tackle, a long-time favorite stop for area fishermen near the corner of U.S. Highway 41 and Shell Point Road in Ruskin, will soon become an outdoor sports super center. The new store is at the site of the former Clark’s Furniture near the Ruskin Post Office. The new location is 10,000 square feet; the current store is 2,500 square feet. Owners Larry and Barbara Chalmers promise, however, that despite the dramatically larger store, their mom-and-pop, service-oriented attitude will remain firmly in place.

“It will be the largest fish and tackle outfit in the Tampa area,” said South Shore Bait & Tackle owner Larry Chalmers, whose wife Barbara is co-owner. “This is a passion for Barb and me. We don’t drive a Rolls Royce, in fact our van has 150,000 miles on it. I’m 20-years Navy-retired. This is the kind of place where we can put a plan to it and do something with it.”

With the greatly increased store space, the assortment of goods will be much more than simply tackle and bait. The new store will also have a wide selection of boating products, outdoor-oriented clothing, and hunting gear.

“We want to diversify,” Larry continued. “First of all, I can now offer so much more fishing tackle because our customers want it. There is no other fishing tackle store in the area and there is so much more we can add. But we want to diversify to carry boating supplies, hunting accessories, camping gear, golf supplies, maybe even kayaks and accessories. Anything to do with outdoor sports, we are going to try to carry. We’ll have just about 8,000 square feet of fishing tackle alone.”

During the recent building boom years, many businesses were priced out of the market due to rapidly increasing rent and building costs. Larry is optimistic the economic pendulum will soon swing back in the area’s favor, if it hasn’t already started.

“People ask if we’re a little nervous jumping into something like this with the economy being kind of bad,” he said. “I’ve always had a philosophy that sooner or later we’re going to come out of this. My glass has never been half-empty, it’s always been half-full. I’m a firm believer that if you are not at the top of the wave already riding it, if you try to swim to catch up, you’ll never get the ride. The next growth area is going to be here in the South Shore area.”

While Florida and the Tampa Bay area have been mired in high unemployment rates in recent years, Larry and Barbara have plans to do their part to help.

“Right now we have seven employees, including my wife and I,” Larry said. “I suspect that when we get this done, we’ll have a minimum of 12 employees so we’re going to be able to employ some people.”

They began with a small store in Gibsonton and opened the Ruskin location five years ago. With the slowdown in the economy, they eventually sold the Gibsonton store.

“Slowly but surely, I’ve increased what we offer to our customers,” Larry said. “Eventually, we knew we would need to expand. We don’t make the kind of money needed to buy the land and build a new building, but I talked to (building owner) Mr. Clark about this property six months ago and now we have a long term contract here. We hope that we will be here for a long time.”

In addition to the expanded product offerings, the new store will have a “how-to” section for those who would like to learn the ins and outs of area fishing.

“If a customer wants to learn how to cast net, for instance, we’ll be able to put in a DVD and show them how to do it here in the store,” Larry said.

“We’ll also partner up with the area charter captains,” Barb said. “As part of that, charter captains will be given the opportunity to provide instruction to customers, in-store.”

The couple has spent tens of thousands of dollars just upgrading the building’s electrical wiring. A new live bait room will be custom-built with raised nonskid flooring, waterproof walls and raised electrical outlets for safety. “My employees are like family, I never want to hear about someone getting hurt,” Larry said.

The entire bait room will be fully visible to the buying public. “Customers want to see their bait,” he continued. “We are also going to add freshwater live bait.”

Additionally, bait customers will be able to fill their saltwater live wells directly from a tap outside the store. At most bait stores, customers have to carry in five-gallon buckets of saltwater when buying live bait.

For many of their longstanding customers, the new store will offer an immediate improvement over the old: it will have vastly increased parking space, and driving in a vehicle towing a boat will be much easier and safer.

The new store will open at 6 a.m. on June 4. As part of the grand opening celebration, the day will include free hamburgers and hotdogs for customers, door prizes every hour and a live radio show broadcasting from the premises.

While the new store will be the largest tackle shop in the Tampa area, both Larry and Barb are committed to maintaining the friendly customer-oriented atmosphere for which they are known.

“The one thing I want to make sure everyone understands,” Larry said, “even though we will be a big store, we will remain a mom-and-pop store. We will continue to greet our customers and encourage them to come back in with their fishing stories.”

The couple already supports numerous fishing programs in clubs and area schools through the current store. Larry and Barb expect that level of support to increase with the new store.

“We’re having a lot of fun here,” Larry said. “This is a big project but there is no ‘quit’ in our vocabulary. I’ve learned the business over the past five years and now it is time to take it to the next level.”

The grand opening is not just for those interested in fishing, everyone interested in outdoor activities is invited to attend on June 4. Click here for a map to the new store location.

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