VOICES: Barryton bait shop owner thrives in niche business

This story is part of Voices of our community, which is designed to tell you something new about your neighbors. Participants are chosen at random for the interviews, in which we strive to share a portion of their lives with you, the reader. Look for this series every Monday.

BARRYTON — As a child, Michael Martin remembers vacationing in Barryton. Fishing and hunting in the rural area was a nice change of pace from the crowded and busy life in his hometown of St. Johns.

He also remembers visiting local bait and tackle shops before heading to the lake with his family for a day of fishing. But today, many of those shops have disappeared from the landscape.

GONE FISHIN’: Michael Martin, 31, is the owner of Martin’s Tackle Box in Barryton. Martin vacationed in the area as a child and moved to the village from St. Johns to work in Mount Pleasant. The shop started as a hobby but Martin took it on full time and moved it Barryton after he was laid off from his job. He plans to expand the shop this summer. (Pioneer photo/Kyle Leppek)

That’s why when Martin moved to Barryton to work in Mount Pleasant, he decided to open his own bait and tackle shop as a hobby. After he was laid off from his job, Martin took the shop on full time and moved it into the village. Almost a year later, Martin’s Tackle Box is thriving.

The 31-year-old father of one takes pride in supporting local businesses like his own. When he can, he purchases products made in Michigan and in the United States. He even sells several products made by Barryton residents.

Villagers also appreciate Martin moving his business into town. Before he opened, the former gas station had become run down and was unattractive, said friend Dan Hatcher.

“The community was really happy that somebody came in here and started building the place back up and put a business back in here,” Hatcher said. “It was getting to be an eyesore. You had a boarded up, old building and he came in here and cleaned this place up, redid it and opened it up.”

The store, located on M-66, carries everything from live bait and sporting good clothing to smoked fish and jerky. Martin plans to expand his business this summer to become a larger sporting goods store.

The Pioneer recently sat down with Martin to share fishing stories and talk about owning a small business.

PIONEER: What do you remember most about bait shops as a child?

MARTIN: You won’t find it in here because we clean our tanks, but it is the smell; it is just that “bait shop smell.” That’s what I remember, but you go in there and it is friendly. Everybody is talking, you don’t have people, like in the big stores, snub nosing you or walking by or running a cart past you.

When I was growing up, we had a cabin on Houghton Lake and you would go in (bait shops) in the morning and my dad and my uncle would sit down with the guy up there and see where the fish were biting. They would have a cup of coffee and they would B.S. for a while.

What do you enjoy most about your job?

MARTIN: It’s fun. Just being around the fishing and all of the B.S. that comes with it. Bait shops are dying. You don’t find a lot of them and it’s nice to keep it going; it is a heritage. If it wasn’t for the little guys, the big stores wouldn’t be around. You don’t find a bait shop anywhere. There are very few around.

What is the difference between small bait shops and box stores?

MARTIN: (Small stores) are going to know what baits to use, what lakes are doing real well for fishing and they are going to carry live bait.

In a small place you know everybody. You want to help out your community. Since I have opened up a shop in this town I try to buy everything in the town that I can. I try to help everybody out by keeping it local. If you don’t have shops here then you won’t have a town.

What is something you wouldn’t spend your money on?

MARTIN: A new car. It’s a waste of money. I do a lot of reading and some authors say if you can’t pay for it all in cash, don’t buy it.

What is unique about your shop?

MARTIN: We guarantee all live bait. You won’t have any dead minnows or any dead worms in any of your containers. That’s pretty hard to find in any bait shop. That’s why our slogan is, “We carry live bait, not dead or dying.”

Has the unusually warm winter affected your business?

MARTIN: Oh yeah, it’s definitely slowed it right down this year from not having a whole lot of ice. Ice fishing was a month behind.

What is something someone might not know about owning a bait shop?

MARTIN: You get to know a lot of people. That’s kind of the fun part. You get a lot of guys that come down here and hang out for hours on end.

Have you heard any hunting or fishing stories that stick out in your mind?

MARTIN: No, there are just B.S.ing guys coming in telling you stories. You know, no fisherman ever lies! I don’t get to go (out hunting or fishing). You own a store and you are pretty much stuck here. If you like to hunt and fish this is definitely not a job you want to take on, you get out very little. But when I do go out I enjoy it probably more than I had before. Having a shop here I’m going out with a few of the customers and getting to know more people and seeing different lakes around the area. So it’s not bad.

Do you have any phobias?

MARTIN: No, not really. When you hunt and fish, there is not a whole lot that is going to scare you.

What is the oldest piece of clothing you own and wear regularly?

MARTIN: There is quite a few if you look in (my) closet. But it is probably an Old Navy orange vest I wear quite a bit, like a fishing vest. It’s probably at least 10 years old. It’s not worn out, it’s nice, it’s handy, it has a lot of pockets you can shove a lot of stuff in it. Working in here I wear it a lot because you are putting pencils and pens in it. It is just something easy to wear.

What do you like about Barryton?

MARTIN: It’s a close, small community. Everybody knows everybody; everybody is willing to help each other out. It’s a good environment to bring kids up in. (St. Johns) is overcrowded, it’s too busy. (Barryton) is a slower pace. It’s definitely a different breed of people up here. I was culture shocked when I first moved up here. Down there it’s everybody is go, go, go and up here you just have to take your foot off the gas and slow it down a little bit because people don’t move as fast up here. Not in a bad way, it’s just life is a lot slower up here. You can actually enjoy things a lot more.

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