Thousands upon thousands. Louie Mansfield isn’t sure how many SKUs he has in his store. But he is sure that it takes a village to house them. Today, we take a look inside that village, inside the backrooms and storage facilities that keep the largest crappie retailer in the nation afloat.
Downtown Caruthersville, Mo., is not a sprawling place. But it is unmistakably a downtown. Buildings, many of them historic, hug the street corners where since 1857 hard working Americans have plied their trades near the banks of the Mississippi River.
158 years after the founding of Caruthersville, Louie Mansfield is running the Grizzly Jig Company out of one of those historic buildings. Actually, he’s running it out of several. Last week, we took you into the retail side of Grizzly Jig. That’s where the glitz and the glamour—if glamour exists in the fishing industry—live. But as any retailer knows, store shelves don’t stock themselves. And if you’re going to keep the largest inventory of crappie tackle in the country, you’ve got to store it somewhere. For Mansfield, the quest to store that inventory has taken him on a strange journey into the time capsules of Caruthersville’s past.
The Grizzly horde is not glamorous—store rooms never are. But it does offer a fascinating look into the past.
“This used to be a Swedish massage parlor,” says Mansfield, as we ascend into one of his storage facilities. This one is located next door to his retail shop. A mounted wolf stands sentinel over a fortified, metal gate at the stairs’ base. “There was a doctor’s office in here, too.”
Reaching the summit, I can’t help but marvel at the sheer scale of Mansfield’s inventory. Already, we’ve visited a warehouse in the back of Grizzly’s retail shop, but this is another level. It’s a virtual warehouse north with room after room of what appears to be a late 19th-century brick office building filled with fishing rods and fishing reels and other various implements of fishing tackle. That’s what hits you first up here: Grizzly Jig has a heck of a lot of inventory from manufacturers around the world. It’s a little dusty and a little dim, but that’s what warehouses are. And for all of its age, Mansfield’s inventory is methodically inventoried.
As you soak it all in, however, something else hits you about this place. A nude, frazzle-headed mannequin stares at you from across the hall. The wolf isn’t the only mounted body guarding this place.
It’s all a bit … creepy. In fact, “If I didn’t know any better,” I tell Mansfield, “I’d say this place is haunted.”
Louie doesn’t blink at the suggestion. He won’t go for an all-out ghost hunt in his storage facility, but, he says, he has heard some unexplainable stories about this place. The sounds of carts rolling around upstairs when no one is there, one or two frightening employees flying down the staircase after inventory efforts.
No, Louie is not the type to stir things up. Neither is he frightened by the place, but he will politely nod to its past.
“A family came up here one day asking about a door,” he says, as we’re riffling through decades worth of Grizzly Jig catalogs. “Turns out, they were the grand kids of Mrs. Ora Collum. She ran a massage parlor up here. Her name is still on the stairs, and the door had her name on it, too. Well, they wanted to know if I would sell the door … but I figured, ‘Hey it’s worth more to you than me.’ So we let them have it.”
Manfield’s family has been here a long time. They are friends of the community, but before the Mansfield’s founded Grizzly Jig, Louie’s father worked at a shoe factory across town. That factory is our next stop.
Here, Mansfield keeps another fortress of Grizzly inventory. “It’s boat seats,” he says. About 30,000 of them, to be exact.
Yes, 30,000 boat seats. They fill the old factory—punch clock still on the wall—nearly half way. Mansfield says there used to be more, but he’s sold many of them. Accompanying the seats are thousands more pedestals and mounts. If you’ve ever been to ICAST and marveled at the size of the show, you’ll recognize the feeling here in Grizzly’s converted factory/warehouse. It’s a different kind of marvel, but just like ICAST, it brings home the scale of a fishing industry that is worth upwards of $30 billion per year in the United States.
Trying to imagine 30,000 boat seats mounted to 15,000 boats will do that for you.
Tour complete, I head for the factory door. Down a small flight of steel stairs, past rusting old compression tanks and out the door I go. Mansfield takes a while to follow up. He’s taking a few extra seconds to pause and reflect. His dad worked here; probably walked past those tanks, down the stairs and looked at the clock, too.
The backrooms of Grizzly Jig are a special place. And not just for the inventory.