Anglers at Lake Murray soon will be bereft of the bait, banter and breakfasts that long have been a staple of Dooley’s Sport Shop.
Shutting down the store near Lexington operated by four generations of his family is bittersweet but necessary as anglers increasingly go elsewhere for purchases, owner Charles Dooley said.
The store, on U.S. 378 a few blocks west of U.S. 1, is closing Feb. 24 after 67 years of operation.
For years, Dooley’s was the only shop for miles on the road. It was a guidepost for drivers unfamiliar with what was then the largely rural south shore of a lake that’s now a suburban resort.
Digital Access for only $0.99
For the most comprehensive local coverage, subscribe today.
Regulars dominate the customers, especially the breakfast and lunch crowds, creating a Cheers-style camaraderie akin to the television show’s refrain “Where Everybody Knows Your Name.”
“It’s a lot like that,” said Monte Dooley, the owner’s son, who oversees the meal counter popular not only with anglers but with many locals as well.
Dooley’s is the type of place where breakfast remains available until the grits are gone. Fish fries are held monthly.
“There’s a lot of trash talking,” longtime customer Mark Aranas agreed.
Those exchanges create an atmosphere of a get-together among friends, others said.
“They’re just like family to me,” said Mike Berry, who has been coming to the store for 30 years.
But that goodwill no longer pays the bills.
It’s impossible to compete with lures, rods and other equipment available more cheaply on the Internet and at discount stores, the elder Dooley said.
And fresh bait like minnows and crickets once solely available at the store now is sold at many convenience stores nearby.
Steps such as free advice readily given on fishing at the 47,500-acre lake nearby and repairing rods and reels weren’t enough to overcome that trend, the Dooleys said.
“You see new people coming in wanting information without spending money,” the younger Dooley said. “We tried to offset that by treating you like one of us.”
Adding features like truck rentals and hunting supplies helped, but those extras are no longer sufficient, the Dooleys said.
“You just can’t make it on bait and tackle alone any more,” the elder Dooley said.
His son, 51, decided taking over the store isn’t worthwhile. “The only way it would is if I work seven days a week, be the only employee and probably live here,” he said.
At 73, the elder Dooley also is ready to give up 10-to-12-hour work days.
He has no definite plan on what comes next but promises he won’t be idle. “I won’t go home and sit in a rocking chair,” he said.
New owner Rhonda Johnson plans to convert the store into a restaurant and bar, opening in late summer. She is developing a menu possibly featuring longtime Dooley’s favorites such as sausage wraps.
The decor in the new eatery will change somewhat, with the mounted deer heads and fish disappearing. But “I want to leave it rustic,” Johnson said.
She plans to keep up the roadside sign of the store that’s easily one of the oldest in the community as a memento.
The store long has been a landmark locally, town Mayor Steve MacDougall said.
“Everybody would stop by for bait and drinks before going to the lake,” said MacDougall, who worked there as a teenager in the early 1980s. “It was a flagship you gave directions by. It’s not going to be the same with it gone.”
Tim Flach: 803-771-8483