By Jim Mackinnon
Beacon Journal business writer
He’s ready to close shop, says Frank Navarrete.
For more than 35 years, Navarrete has owned and run TMF Sport Shop, a high-end, destination fly-fishing and hunting store in Ravenna.
It’s the kind of place where like-minded people for years have gathered for comradeship, to drink “stale coffee” while gossiping, joking, teasing and, yes, telling fish stories.
The last scheduled day to be open is Friday.
On Saturday, Oct. 5, Navarrete said he is “gonna have a big auction to clean out what’s left.” That auction includes the custom-built store at 4081 Sandy Lake Road that has housed TMF Sports the past 16 years; he and his late wife, Maggie, initially opened the business in downtown Ravenna.
“It’s kind of sad. But it’s time,” said Navarrete, who is 83. There is no one to pass the Portage County store on to, he said.
He stays active — he went bear hunting in Maine this month — but said health issues helped make up his mind to close the store.
Navarrete intends to stay active, too, once TMF’s doors shut for good. He has already booked fishing and boar-hunting trips and also intends to pan for gold early next year in Arizona.
He has two favorite quotes from baseball great Satchel Paige:
“Don’t look back. Someone might be gaining on you,” he said. “Age is a question of mind over matter. If you don’t mind, it doesn’t matter.”
Navarrete didn’t start out intending to own his own specialty sporting goods store.
He was raised on a farm in northern Trumbull County. He enlisted in the Navy, where he served from 1949 to 1954, including being stationed at a now long-closed Navy base in Key West, Fla., where he recalled regularly seeing one of the 20th century’s literary giants.
“I saw Ernest Hemingway so drunk he had to walk his bike,” Navarrete said. “He talked to everybody.”
He entered Kent State and graduated with the intention of becoming a teacher. But he didn’t like teaching, so he started selling textbooks. He met his wife while on a sales call.
“She was a librarian. We were married 38 years,” he said.
The couple raised and showed dogs as a hobby. Navarrete said at one point he was one of only seven people in the nation who had a dual champion Brittany Spaniel.
His wife wasn’t happy with all of the sales traveling he had to do and spotted a newspaper advertisement by high-end fishing gear company Orvis that was looking to move into the Akron area.
Origin of name
One thing led to another and Navarrete said he and his wife opened a store in downtown Ravenna selling Orvis products and other luxury brands. The store’s name, TMF, is an acronym for Tad, Maggie and Frank. (Tad is his stepson.)
“I always tell people it stands for Too Much Fishing,” Navarrete joked.
When the downtown Ravenna store was in its third year, Navarrete said he knew he could make a living off it. And so he did.
He moved from the original location in part because his business did not draw people from the surrounding neighborhood. TMF was a “destination” store that attracted customers from elsewhere in Ohio as well as out of state and needed more space and better parking, he said.
One of his customers, an avid fly fisherman and architect, agreed to design a store for him in trade for three custom fly rod outfits, Navarrete said. Besides the overall design and look of the store, its conservation theme includes extremely well insulated walls and ceiling — the heating bill runs about $1,600 a year, he said.
Business kept growing until fairly recently, he said.
“It was up, up, up until five years ago,” Navarrete said. That’s when the onset of the Great Recession took a big hit on business.
“We’re high-end goods,” he said. “No regrets, though. ... We didn’t keep up with the times. I didn’t believe in using the Internet.”
He’s not anti-technology, though. He just bought a Kindle e-book reader. He said he’d rather read than watch television.
His interest in fishing and hunting over the years took him all over North America and the Bahamas, he said.
He has caught all seven species of salmon, including the hard-to-catch Atlantic salmon. He said he finally caught an Atlantic salmon — a 38-incher — on his last cast of the day on a fishing trip in New Brunswick.
Catch and release
He also fishes locally. While he is mostly a catch-and-release fisherman, his freezer has a couple hundred small fish — bluegills, crappies and perch — he caught, largely from nearby Muzzy Lake. “I usually pan fry them,” he said.
Employees and friends reminisced.
“You come here anytime and there will be more lies being told,” said Gene Miceli, who works at the store.
“They’re not lies. They’re fish stories,” said Dave Rinehart, a store regular.
Miceli said he knows why TMF Sports thrived for decades.
“[Frank] put all the stuff you bought in plain brown bags so the wives would never know what you bought. That was the secret to your success,” he said. “There have been some characters in this building.”
The store has a close-knit group of friends, Navarrete said. “It’s a pretty tight fraternity.”
And that’s the kind of thing that makes it hard to retire.
‘A lucky guy’
Navarrete definitely can be counted among the store’s characters. For at least the last eight years, he has sported a gold earring in his left ear that he got to change his image “just for the hell of it,” he said.
TMF Sports was a good place to work, he said.
“I’m a lucky guy. I’m in a good position,” Navarrete said. “I had a great ride. I’ve been very, very lucky. I’ve done it all. I have no aspirations. I’ve done what I wanted. ... I have so many great memories.”
Jim Mackinnon can be reached at 330-996-3544 or firstname.lastname@example.org