Alex Chilton was 16 years old when it happened. Plucked from a high school talent show in Memphis, he was scooped up by a local band and weeks later found himself the voice of an international, number one hit.
If you’re a little older than me, you’ll know the band. They were called The Box Tops, and Chilton’s first hit, “The Letter” got me thinking about the way notes can change the course of a day, a life or a relationship. “The Letter” reminded me of another note, this one written in ink rather than song, and penned to an independent tackle store this week. Here’s a copy of it:
If you’ve read the latest print issue of Fishing Tackle Retailer, you probably seen the fantastic guest column from Gary Simpson of Gary’s Tackle Box in Gainesville, Florida. If not, the name should be familiar—the store was featured on this website last year.
Gary is a guy like many of you: a local legend in the fishing world around his store. He’s got fish tales for days, and a loyal customer base that’s stuck with him as his family and his customers’ families evolved around the sport over the past few decades. And, Gary, you see, is in a bind that many of you have faced and the rest may fear—the big box giant finally moving in to his city.
It’s a fear that I believe to be very real. I, myself, have been accused of being a spy for a big box chain by a frazzled tackle store owner in the past. The guy nearly pulled a gun on me. But Gary’s column makes a good point, one that is as much a product of his positive attitude towards life as it is the years of experience behind his sales counter. He hopes that the new Bass Pro Shops in Gainesville will renew interest in the outdoors in his area. And that, he says, can only benefit his shop.
It’s a refreshing way to look at a frightening situation.
Gary isn’t alone either. Across the country, from Gainesville to the Florida Keys and the Puget Sound, independent stores are still thriving, some just blocks away from a national big box chain. Why? Because of the owners and employees of independent stores, because of people like you whose intimate knowledge of the area is almost impossible to replicate.
Manufacturers know that you are important, industry strategists say the same, and apparently, at least one man at the top of a big box empire agrees.
“The envelope came across the desk, and I said, ‘There’s my response from Johnny.’ I’ll be darned if it wasn’t,” Simpson says. “I was impressed of course, but I can’t really say that I was surprised that he would take the time to scratch out a little hand note. I have always heard that he’s a great gentleman from people that have spent time with him. I think in many ways he is the same man he was when he founded his Bass Pro Shops. Now, it’s taken on a life of its own and grown insanely, but I’ve always felt like he was a great guy.”
Simpson adds that in the weeks since Gainesville’s Bass Pro Shops opened, his store has noticed a slight dip in customer count. “With all of the excitement around the opening, that was to be expected, but it’s by no means devastating. We had a great Black Friday event. Everyone had a good time.”
“The Letter,” by the way, wasn’t Chilton’s only hit. After The Box Tops broke up in 1970, Chilton went on to found power-pop trailblazer Big Star, a group cited as a major influence by R.E.M., The Replacements and KISS. All three of their records are listed in Rolling Stone‘s Greatest 500 Albums of All Time.
You never know how far a letter might go.