Owners who are “way past retirement age” and a decline in fisheries are combining to close the doors at a Portland repair shop that’s specialized in fixing reels and more outdoor gear for decades.
Susan and Rich Basch say Saturday, Dec. 29, will be the last day Ollie Damon’s is open for business, ending a run that began in 1945 with the Damon family and the last 25 years under their ownership.
“No plans for a party at this point,” the Baschs said in an email to Northwest Sportsman, “just hoping some of our customers will come by the store during the month to say goodbye.”
They won’t be completely walking away from fishing reels as Rich and Susan, 70 and 71 now, say part of the reason for closing is that they would “like to enjoy some time traveling and spending time with our kids and grandkids, not working six days a week,” and that will include getting out on the water with family.
At the same time they point to poor fishing up and down the West Coast recently as among the factors that are forcing them to make the hard decision to walk away from Ollie Damon’s.
There have been dropoffs with Alaskan, Columbia River and other fisheries — “the decline in sturgeon mostly from sea lions depleting the population and reduced opportunities for even catch and release” — along with bad ocean conditions, they say.
And they point to the number of “disposable reels” now on the market, products that are cheaper to replace with a new one than get repaired.
The Baschs have been trying to sell for several years now, and last fall they posted an ad on Craigslist offering the shop for $200,000, but there apparently were no takers, despite a great interview and story on KXL Radio in Portland.
The store was opened by father and son Ollie Damon XII and Ollie Damon XIII in 1945 and originally specialized in toys and hobby items. Fishing tackle was added the next year and then airguns, according to a company history.
“Ollie himself never threw anything away, so this inventory is literally 70-plus years old and we always have something to fix what is wrong,” Rich said during the radio interview.
In the 1950s it became the country’s first Crosman repair center, then Coleman was added. It’s also the “second oldest Shimano warranty center” in the U.S., the Baschs note.
After Ollie Damon XIII suffered a heart attack, ownership changed hands in 1984 and several years later Susan and Rich came along.
“Just since 1992 when we bought the business, the average was 5,000 to 6,000 reels per year, hundreds of Minnkota trolling motors, Cannon and Scotty downriggers, and airguns,” they say of how many pieces they and their team of experts repaired annually.
“That count has diminished because of the fish runs; we’re not even getting the hundreds of reels down from Alaska in the past two years,” they add.
When times were good, Susan found herself mailing parts or repaired equipment across the country — even around the world.
“I’ve shipped parts to Iraq, to a soldier who was stationed in Saddam Hussein’s old compound where he had a manmade lake, and that’s where he fished. He couldn’t go outside the compound to fish because he’d get shot, but he would fish inside the compound but he needed his parts,” she recalled in that radio interview.
In 2016 the Baschs made the decision to move Ollie Damon’s from Grand, just a few long blocks from the Burnside and Morrison Bridges over the Willamette, east 6 miles to Halsey just off where I-84 meets I-205.
They reported that it initially produced more foot traffic, new customers and support from longtime patrons.
Besides regular fishermen and other outdoor enthusiasts, some notable names have come through Ollie Damon’s doors through the decades.
“Oregon Governors John Kitzhaber and Ted Kulongoski; former mayor of Portland Bud Clark; Mort Bishop, owner of Pendleton Woolen Mills; Dave Salesky, Portland TV meteorologist; Bill Long, chairman of Winco Foods; sportscaster Doug Lamier; Jim Conway, fishing show host; Hobart Manns, outdoor writer; and several Portland Trailblazer basketball players,” the Baschs tell Northwest Sportsman.
Others would come in with Zip-Lock baggies and shoe boxes filled with parts, they related in the radio interview.
“We will miss our customers immensely,” the Baschs say. “That’s what has kept us at this for so long; that and the great fish stories. Our concern has been where will fishermen get their repairs done. We didn’t want to leave them with nowhere to go since we’re the only reel repair center in Oregon and Washington.”
Unless you have one of the 100 reels at the shop now, though, anglers in need of a repair will have to send their levelwinds, spincasters and fly reels back to the factories or authorized shops near them, the Baschs say.
They’re selling off all of their parts and remaining inventory, along with the fishing rod and product racks.
“It’s sad for us but we can’t work forever,” they say.
As a writer I’d like to wrap this up with some sort of sappy reel-related term twist, but all I can think of is the seized gears on my beloved Curado 201s and wonder why in hell I never sent them to Ollie Damon’s to get fixed.
Sometimes you don’t know what you’re losing until it’s gone.