Yesterday was a visit your daughter at college day. I chose to fish the third shift the night before leaving the day open for non-fishing stuff. It's funny when you visit your kids in college as all they want to do is get off campus and see the world. Places like Petco, grocery stores, and, yes, a fly shop.
We did some driving around before making a surprise stop at Villanova where Erin and her roommate would crash their friends dorm rooms. It was fun for a bit for me, but I knew in the back of my mind they would pay for it when we circled back and hit the TCO Fly Shop in Bryn Mawr, Pa.
Over the years I had heard alot abut TCO. They weren't in my wheelhouse as they were a Pennsy chain of shops. They started in the 1990's kind of when Dave Choinard opened The Fly Hatch. I think they always had the reputation of it being a local fly shop staffed by real fishy people. That is what a lot of shops were when we had them way back when. They were great for their knowledge and equipment tailored for the local fishery first, following by the next "ring" of waters around the shop, and then the
occasional shop travel trip to far away lands for the fly anglers who have it like that. Those trips are the ones that cost $4,000 - $6,000 dollars. That is above my grade, but they are a great time I hear. I know I am going to get flack about the $4,000 minimum, 'It's not that much". But let's be real. You buy stuff before, you have to get there and back, there's the cost of the trip, the flies, and tips, and alcohol if you partake. Plus a souvenir for the wife who let you go. And for ladies, the husband that let you go as well.
Now I am not in the know, about alot of things, so I have to be clear about my own perception of things and reality vs truths and facts. I try and get it correct as muich as possible, but I don't, but I really try. So when I "found" the TCO shop yesterday it really made me think and the question I asked myself was, "Is Orvis just a big bully?". Why would I say that? I love Orvis, I think. I always have. I was an independent, that makes a difference, Orvis Endorsed Guide. Orvis loves me, no Colin, they could give two shits about you. Mmmm, but let's go back to some possible bullying.
I'm not sure who came first in these locations but I know Orvis came in behind them. Let's just take Choinard's The Fly Hatch. Started in Red Bank, built a huge and sick log style home fly shop in Shrewsbury, where they were an Orvis authorized dealer. Shrewsbury, well that whole area, is kind of bougie. Bougie means money. Money means spending. Money brings business in to try and get a piece. Orvis sells very nice clothing, dog beds, and fly fishing and hunting gear and apparel.
There was and still exists an outdoor mall in Shrewsbury called The Grove. High end stores. More "have it like that" than "ain't got shit" people that shop there. So I remember when Orvis decided to open a company store in The Grove, which was 1,820 feet, from the The Fly Hatch, right down the street. Now as an Authorized Dealer, with most companies, you have to place a minimum of orders from the Mother Ship to be "authorized". I'm not picking on Orvis here. But companies make products and they depend on it being in stores for customers to try on, hold, and buy. Otherwise that's how
Costco comes to have Orvis' $98 long sleeve shirts for $3.84, it was made and didn't move so Costco takes them off the companies hands and blows them out. You can read about that HERE. That is also how customers get sucked into sales, there are sales off the retail price, even at up to 50%, and the big companies are still making money. Anyway.
Most of you who read this had been customers of The Fly Hatch. Real fishy people. Loved the community Dave had built there. Loved the store hang. You came and spent money, because Dave talked you into it. He didn't sucker you into it or slip something in your drink, well maybe, no he convinced you that you needed it. But, for the regular folks who need clothes, gift cards, seasonal decor, or gifts for the fly guy or girl, why would Orvis go and plop themselves right next to an authorized dealer and local successful fly shop?
Well Orvis came and went, like they do often. Look in New Jersey. How many Orvis stores were there, and some plopped right down near local fly shops, only to be gone in a few years. They may not have killed the local fly shops, that sold their products, but they didn't help. I said to Dave one day, and this is just as the internet had started up, that Orvis should pay you or credit you a percentage every time they make an in person sale, or if a local person purchased something online. Well that didn't happen.
Alright enough of that. And remember our sole surviving Orvis store in New Jersey is located in Princeton and managed by Andrew Hamilton. A super nice guy, a real fishy guy, a guy my wife has a crush on, and former fly fishing manager at Orvis Marlton and Haverford. I had visited and done presentations at Marlton but never made it out to Haverford as I was living in and around Monmouth County back then. Looking at the timeline he was there for the merge and unmerge.
Anyway, I found the TCO Fly Shop by accident yesterday on my route between St. Joe's and Villanova. Along the way I had passed the Orvis store but I had no reason to stop. It would have been the same old same. Nice people. Cool big fly fishing space. Maybe pick up a discounted hat in a basket on the floor. But I always like the vibe I get from a local fly shop, well most of them. I get confused some times when a store just carries one line or carries many lines of the same products. To me it's kind of like the Orvis Endorsed guide wearing Simms waders and throwing a Helios rod with a Hatch reel.
So we did visit TCO. Real nice shop. Nice fishy guys working it on a Saturday. The girls got to snoop around at the apparel, check out the various flies for sale including crab flies which are always a draw, and sit in the fold up chairs they had around the shop which are fishing related. I made my way outside of the main shop to the annex where the fly tying stuff is located. Lenny let us in and we talked a bit about some fishing and mutual friends that we have. In todays world, where just about everything is available online, and at times cheaper then a shop can usually offer, it was nice to browse and pick
up a couple things that I needed. Remember, everyone loves a customer that comes in, but to support a local fly shop you have to kick some cash into the register, or at best run or tap your debit card on the machine. I picked up a Loon threader, some Polar Flash I plan to blend with some Squimpish material, and a cool crab foam body cutter made by River Road Creations. The first time I had seen these was