Sunday, November 19, 2023

11.19.23 A nice stop at TCO Bryn Mawr...

     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.    

     So, and I really never thought much about it, the story of Orvis and TCO intrigued me when I stopped by yesterday. You know, look at your local shop. It's not a "build out" when they set up shop. Maybe The Fly Hatch was but I can tell you there was never enough space for inventory storage. Fly shops fit stuff where they can, they aren't knocking down structural walls ect. to make the space perfect. Their stuff "fits" while offering the best exposure to the customer. They do the best they can do with the space, which is expensive, that they rent. Now big companies have designers and branders and builders that design their spaces, which can be too big at times and overwhelming to the consumer. Who can get scared away at times and then just make their purchases online.

     So TCO, which stands for Tulpehocken Creek Outfitters, was born in 1990 in Reading, Pa. Currently there are four shops. The one I visited yesterday was in Bryn Mawr. A really cool town, near a really cool town in Ardmore, and in between sits Haverford. So TCO, and I researched all of this so I'm not sure if I'm 100% correct, was located on Penn Street in Bryn Mawr. Where once you could get fly rods and reels you may now be able to get a massage or a....okay, I won't, not fair or cool. 

     So TCO opened the second of four stores in Bryn Mawr. In 2017 Orvis decided to come and plop a store 1,520 feet away along the "Main Line", where communities on located around Lancaster Ave, which runs from western Philly west to Malvern Pa. In the heart are Ardmore, Haverford, Bryn Mawr, and Villanova. So TCO is rolling and here comes Orvis. A year later there is a new concept brewing in 

some peoples minds in the industry. It's called "shop in a shop". Great idea, let the big box stores come in and swallow up the local shops. That way said big boxers don't look like bullies nor put the little guys out of business. So a little after a year that Orvis opened a joint venture was announced. TCO would 

close their doors on Penn Street, if I have that right, and move into the Orvis Haverford location. TCO would do their thing in one section of the big store and Orvis would have the rest. Now, as TCO is an authorized dealer, how did that work if I came in and bought an Orvis rod, reel and waders? Who's getting the check? Sounds great right? Maybe it was? What do I know. But it smelled an awful like what I saw happen to Choinard at The Fly Hatch. Back in Shrewsbury the Orvis store came and went closing after a short run. 

     During the time of the cohabitation we had Covid. Covid can be the excuse for the end of anything and everything, marriages, businesses, fly fishing shows, you name it, Covid could be the reason. So after three years the relationship ended between TCO and Orvis. "The lease ran out". TCO posted the message on October 4, 2021, 


    Interestingly, and maybe deservedly so, the TCO Fly Shop was named the Orvis Fly Shop of the Year in 2021, the same month TCO and Orvis decided to part ways in Haverford...mmmmmm. 

    So TCO moved back to Bryn Mawr after the split, or whatever they may call it. They are located down, or up, Lancaster Avenue, now instead of 1,520 feet away, a mere 3,624 feet away. 

     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. 

     An example which is confusing to me, and again I am not a retail expert nor have I been heavily involved in working at or owning a fly shop or lodge, would be the West Branch Angler. Which, for years, was my favorite place to stay when I fished, not when I guided on, the Upper Delaware. So here you are a Orvis Endorsed Lodge, with guides that automatically become Orvis Endorsed, the fly shop is an Authorized Dealer, and you have Simms and Sage banners hanging outside and products hanging on the walls? I just don't get it- are you like Orvis all the way or more like a Cabela's or Bass Pro Shops? Is that what everyone place has become? Shotgun blasts of every product just hoping one of them pellets will hit a customer in the head making them buy, something, anything...please! Don't forget there is the  online store which can drop-ship it to you as well. Anyway....

      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 

during a trip out to Jim Matson's basement laboratory where he had a Joe Blado's crease flie set that came in three sizes. By using these you can eliminate the imperfect practice of trying to cut out shapes freehand with a pair of scizzors. It looked cool, may be something I may never use, but I couldn't help 

but thinking attaching some legs and weight would made make for some cool sight fishing flies for striped bass. I should have just picked up a few from super crab fly tyer Michael Perechinsky of Pflies at one of the fly fishing or tying shows and called it a day, but I do like catching fish on my own flies. Just wait for the messes, like in the poor quality and not quantity, of crab flies that I whip up while bellied up to my Peak vice. Nice product placement there. Yes, I use a Peak vice. 

     I wish I lived near TCO, or had that independent local shop shop in my area. My closest is Orvis Princeton and Andrew is doing his best to create a balance between big box retail and local shop. One thing I find, and I might be wrong, is that local fly shops employ and attact fishermen, and ladies, that may be more on the hardcore side. Maybe not that they love it any more, just that they have the mental diagnosis of a fly fishing, and fly tying, addiction. 

     If you are in Pa. TCO has four locations Bryn Mawr, Reading, State College and Boiling Springs. And if you are at a TCO, or any other, shop, that is near any kind of big money visit the Orvis store near them as well. The next time you go to Amazon or search eBay for a used something or ask your buddy who's on a Pro-Staff to get you something cheaper, we, the consumers, are a big reason why the brick and mortar local fly shops, especially those not near or on a destination water, have gone out of business and most likely will never return. We can blame the internet, or Covid, or whatever, but it's our own dam fault.