Bait and tackle store tries to hook whole new generation
One hundred years later, R&R Bait & Tackle is proof that fish still like worms.
"You're going to have fishermen no matter what," said Bill Wentzel of Grove City, whose family has owned the shop for more than 65 years.
R&R in the Brewery District is one of the few remaining independently owned stores of its kind in central Ohio: a family-run bait-and-tackle business that relies on graciousness, competitive pricing and the good wishes of Mother Nature, of course.
"I just say we'll keep doing what we do and we'll stay in business," Wentzel said.
The store, 781 S. Front St., offers mostly fishing equipment and bait, but also other merchandise for the outdoorsman, such as knives, shotgun ammunition and hunters' vests.
Wentzel's son, Bryan, repairs hunting bows and fletches (stabilizing fins or vanes of an arrow) and adds feathers to custom-made arrows.
On a recent visit to the shop, Bryan Wentzel was adding lead weights to a hook, also known as known as a jighead.
"That's what we do in the winter to get ready for spring," Bill Wentzel said.
The business got its start in spring 1913 as R&R Bait Store, 42 E. Rich St., in downtown Columbus.
The storefront has since been torn down. In its place is Columbus Commons.
Bill Wentzel's father bought the store in 1947. Bill Wentzel took it over in 1967. He moved it to 52 W. Whittier St. in 1971 before settling in at its current location five years later.
The old-school cinderblock building is decorated with pictures of anglers' prizes, mounted animal heads, skulls from departed woodland creatures and rows of fishing gear. The place carries a full line of live and frozen bait and hundreds of lures.
The Wentzels and other experts on staff offer tips about how to fish -- and where.
"There are so many places to catch fish it's unbelievable," Bill said. "You've got your basics and basics always catch fish."
The business has changed somewhat over the years. For example, there aren't as many children involved these days, the two men said.
"It's not hard to talk a kid into fishing," Bryan Wentzel said. "It's the parents."
They've taken to modern technology to promote their store, creating a facebook page and getting spots on Fishn' with Joe, a You Tube show.
And they had to, because there's a lot more competition, specifically from national retailers such as Dick's Sporting Goods, Walmart, Sports Authority and Cabela's, which is opening its first central Ohio location this year in the Polaris area.
Although it's on the other side of town, it will have an effect on R&R's business, Bill Wentzel said.
"It's a big question mark," he said. "We don't really know how much.
"The biggest impact is the internet. People sit at home and buy things without coming to a brick-and-mortar business like ours."
Still, on the South Side, R&R is the last refuge for worms and minnows. And there's plenty of good fishing in the area, at the Greenlawn Avenue dam, Scioto Audubon Metro Park and the Main Street dam, he said.
Bill Wentzel is a 1957 graduate of South High School. He and his wife, Sally, a retiree who now does the bookkeeping at R&R, raised their four children -- Bryan, Brenda, Brad and Bill -- in Grove City.
The siblings have all scattered and Bill and Sally live in a house behind R&R.
Only Bryan, 51, works at the store full time. Naturally, he's had some disagreements with his father over the years.
"It has its ups and downs," he said. "It's been alright for the most part, I guess. I'm still here."
During the wintertime, Bill and Bryan Wentzel plow snow to keep up with the bills.
Four years ago, Bill Wentzel had intended to build a small bar on site. After all, the place already sells beer, plus pop and ice.
He went through various levels of approval, but ran into trouble when someone complained about his request for a reduction in the number of parking spaces. The city ultimately rejected the project.
Yet, at 74 years old, he has no immediate plans for retirement.
"I enjoy working every day," he said. "If you enjoy doing what you do you're not working anyway, right?"