Goshen News, Goshen, IN

March 4, 2013

Bait shop owners say goodbye

By SAM HOUSEHOLDER
THE GOSHEN NEWS

GOSHEN — After 34 years, a local staple among hunters and fisherman, has closed its doors.

Travel Tender, located at 1310 Lincolnway East, Goshen, closed Feb. 24 on owner Ernie Borntrager’s 72nd birthday. The time was right to retire, he said.

“It’s bittersweet,” he said.

Borntrager and his wife, LaVerda, have run the store since they took it over as an recreational vehicle supply store in 1979.

The couple, celebrating their 50th wedding anniversary in June, plan to visit their children in Tennessee, Georgia and Illinois, as well as travel to Alaska after decades of managing the bait and tackle store.

“It’ll be nice to go visit (family) together, instead of one at a time,” Ernie said.

Since the store closed, the couple has been working with an auction house to sell off remaining inventory later this month.

Ernie and LaVerda credit their customers for allowing them to keep the store going for as long as it did.

“We really enjoyed it, great customers,” Ernie said. “They’re all sorry to see us go, but they are happy for us.”

Throughout their years in Goshen, Ernie said the store was only closed three days a year; Christmas, Thanksgiving and Easter.

The nondescript store managed to continue to serve sportsmen, despite competition from larger chain stores moving into the city.

“Well when Walmart (came) in, we about lost it then. They tore us up real bad, but we switched to catering to the bass fishermen, that’s what saved us,” Ernie said. “Our customers tell us the bigger corporations aren’t personal.”

“The fisherman like to come in, chat and visit and swap stories,” he said.

For the Borntragers, the customers came first. Ernie said he built the business based around what they wanted, not what he wanted.

“Ernie had a great rapport with the whole community,” LaVerda said. “We’re really going to miss them, because we’re kind of like a family.”

“Rarely do we go anywhere; groceries or a restaurant or wherever, that there isn’t someone who doesn’t wave or say hi and want to talk with us,” she said. “We’re going to miss that, but it’ll be nice to slow down.”

Ernie said the business got in the way of his own desire to enjoy the products he was selling.

“The fishermen want to go out early in the morning and then late in the afternoon, so it’s time consuming,” he said.

“I enjoy fishing and hunting,” he said. “But then I realized that I don’t get to do it as much when I’m standing behind a counter.”

“You get grouchy standing behind the counter, listening to all these guys going fishing,” he joked.

Managing the small business has been rewarding for the pair, but seeing the store come to an end hasn’t been easy.

“As it gets more empty, the sadder I’m getting, it’s been such a big part of our life,” LaVerda said.

“I hate to leave,” said Ernie.

The pair agreed that leaving behind their customers will be the hardest part.

“(Customers) would say ‘we could come here and get everything we needed’ and now where are they going to go,” LaVerda said. “There just isn’t another place for them to go, so that does tug at our hearts.”

“It’s a two-way street,” she said. “We appreciate them and they appreciate us, and that’s sort of the bottom line.”