Exhausted enough from JA New York show week to feel a bit like crying on bad news. One of my favorite independent retailers has closed its doors for good.


Since I was three, living in Yellowstone National Park, where my father was a ranger, the sport of fishing has been one of my greatest passions. Even though, as a dad and magazine editor in a time of massive upheaval, I don't fish very often these days, the thought of it is always there for me. You know that special place in our imaginations where we keep the the fantasies that help get us through the daily grind?
Part of the experience, as it is for many hobbyists, is the retail aspect, visiting that store where they have special knowledge--and all the toys you'd like to own. Ray's Sport Shop in Plainfield, N.J., was one of these--an old school, hardcore outdoorsman's shop. It's where I took my oldest son to gear up for our first fishing trip together. Many of the possessions I cherish were purchased there. 
Ray's was founded in 1947 and still had the atmosphere to prove it. It was a place that made guys like me feel good. There were aisles running every which way, dark corners jammed with gear, from all the fishing stuff you could want to bowhunting equipment and special side rooms for outfitting law enforcement officers, a segment that was big business for this store, which boasted one of the few public pistol ranges in the state.
But now it's gone, with signs on the door simply apologizing for the owners' retirement. Rumor is they sold out to the adjacent Nissan dealer for $12 million.
I've been reading "Aesop's Fables" to my sons. So I found myself looking for a moral last night. I guess it's that people get what they bargain for. People have increasingly shifted their buying patterns to online from the traditional sporting goods stores, purchasing from Cabela's, among others.
Then, of course, there's been the massive siphoning of sales by the world's largest sporting goods dealer. Guess who? (Hint: seven letters; starts with W, ends with t.) The independent retailers have seen high-margin categories, which helped support the overall business model, disappear, while margins on other products have been pressured down. Sportsmen might get staples for cheaper now, but the hard-to-find products that only a specialist would stock, and the fun, are gone. 





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