Wednesday, May 23, 2012
Along Highway 380 in Wilmington sits a tiny bait and tackle shop: Tackle Town. It’s been operating for more than 30 years. Paul and Betty Long are owners who pour their hearts and souls into handmade items and lasting memories.
Paul says he still enjoys making fishing supplies. He went to Florida in 1965, couldn’t find what he wanted for fishing, made his own tackle and the rest is history. He found what he loves, and he is completely self-taught. He says life is good: When he is hungry he eats; when he is tired, he sleeps; when he is done with his work, he goes home.
Paul and Betty have run a family business in every sense. When their five children were young, they sat around TV trays and worked on counting lures. The children learned to count to 10 fast, since Betty needed to gather 10 groups of 10 items for a package of 100. Over the years, sales have grown from the tri-state area to the entire United States, reaching Paul’s many fisherman friends.
Paul says that his work is unique. That would be an understatement. Plastics, lures, and rods are each handmade, hand-poured and hand-painted. Colors are specially made, and when a someone can’t find jigs, he will make them. Go by and ask how his rods are different. He hand wraps, weaves and even crochets everything – nothing stamped or produced mechanically.
On a dare, Paul made a boomerang, soft-bodied crankbait, of which he’s very proud. His gifts can’t be compared to other fishing supplies. One rod bears the name “Ed.” Another rod says, “Happy Father’s Day.” The rods must be very special - Paul has made 49 custom rods since last December.
Customers also stop by the shop for live bait. The customers are the best, Betty says. One day she had just lifted a bucket of live minnows from the tank. Her “legs gave out” and she fell backwards, with minnows “flapping” all over her. A 90-year-old man looked over the counter and said, “Missy, want me to help you up?”
Customers learn about the shop by word of mouth. “After watching a customer look at lures for about 10 minutes, I asked him if he shops at Tackle Town often.”
“Every chance I get,” he said. “I’m Danny Smith. I’ve been coming here since I was six.”
When you stop by, ask Paul about a special line of products that benefits the U.S. troops. He did not make the money and hat clips made from shells actually used in Iraq and Afghanistan, but he is proud to offer them. He might even show you his “stations” where he and Betty complete orders - a table for painting, a self-made contraption for hanging lures and jigs, a table for tying flies and the backroom for pouring plastic. He uses a different pot for melting and pouring each color. Apparently the pots last forever. For black, he uses the pot he bought for 49 cents at S.S. Kresge.
Paul and Betty might have time to talk when you visit the shop, but their work keeps them busy. Their three Yorkie Terriers also require much of their time. One dog is named Tess, for Della Reese on “Touched by an Angel.” The others are Annie, the “prettiest Italian woman” Paul ever met and Kayla, one of Betty’s favorite names.
They also have time to present information to civic and interest groups, can all the vegetables and fruit from their garden (Betty’s area of expertise), and on one day this spring spent considerable time talking with a neighborhood boy who was interested in making fishing supplies.
You will find creativity and the joy of life. You may also find a unique gift. If you don’t see what you want, Paul and Betty will most likely offer to make it!