NEWPORT — Later this month, after serving locals and visitors alike for decades, a Newport Bayfront staple, Harry’s Bait & Tackle, will shut its doors for the final time.
On Aug. 25, business owner Randy Druba will turn the key, lock the entrance to Harry’s Bait & Tackle and not look back … for at least two weeks anyway, but probably a bit longer. He has owned the business for the past 43 years, serving the angling community at the corner of Southwest Bay Boulevard and Southwest Hurbert Street.
“I’m shutting everything down the 25th, and on the 26th, I’m going east to go hunting,” Druba explained during a busy late morning last week to a longtime customer who called the shop. “When I get back in two or three weeks, I’ll come back down and figure out what’s left in here.”
Druba then turned to a customer inside the store and explained how this year’s hunting trip will be like none he’s taken in a long time.
“I’m going archery elk hunting, and I’m really kind of looking forward to it this year because it’ll be the first year I don’t have to worry about getting back here by a set time, and I don’t have to pay someone to take care of my place while I’m gone,” Druba said on the weekend of his 65th birthday.
For about the last four years, Druba planned his retirement for the summer 2020. He’s certainly not the kind of guy who’d let something such as a pandemic force his hand and tell him how to run, or in this case, when to close, his business.
“None of my customers want me to leave, but I sure as heck have already made that decision,” he said. “I might’ve retired a few years ago at 62 — that would have been an even 40 years here — but for insurance reasons, I couldn’t afford to retire until I got on Medicare.”
Mike “Shrimp Daddy” Gatens, a wholesale shrimp bait supplier soon breaking into the retail market in Waldport, says Harry’s Bait & Tackle under Druba’s watch always stood for exceptional service, fair prices and some good natured ribbing if the guy behind the counter is fond of his customer.
“I’m going to miss that,” Gatens said of Druba’s willingness to poke fun at his customers. “It’s all part of doing business with him. It’s what makes him who he is. He’s unique, that’s for sure.”
According to Druba, Harry Strause opened Harry’s Bait & Tackle in either 1955 or ’56, then sold it in 1972 to Al Fox.
“In ’77, my dad and I bought it as partners from Al, and when I was 35, in ’86 or ’87, I bought three-quarters of it out,” Druba said. “And then Dad died in ’96 and left it all to me.”
Through Friday, Aug. 14, all merchandise on Harry’s shelves, at least what hasn’t yet been picked clean, is 35 percent off. Afterward, everything is half off regular price until Druba packs his gear and heads east in search of elk.
Harry’s Bait & Tackle never had an official website because, according to Druba, “my name’s already been out there without one for 40 years that I know of.”
The key to Harry’s Bait & Tackle’s success is no secret, according to Druba.
“I’ve always been fair and honest with my customers because they’re like family members to me,” he said. “My customers … I’ve always loved them.”
Druba says he’s looking forward at least one trip to Alaska next year, but as far as additional expectations for retirement, Druba knows he’s out of his element.
“I don’t know really,” he said. “Guess I’ll have to do it first, and then I’ll let you know.”
Gatens said the end of Harry’s Bait & Tackle, and Druba’s presence on the Bayfront, will be sorely missed.
“He’s definitely one of the heartbeats of the fishing community and the sport fishing industry here,” Gatens said. “I’m going to miss him a lot, but I’m sure we’ll stay friends and in communication long after the business is gone.”