Shop That Sells Bait to the Stars Is Moving Soon
By Anthony Ramirez
Published: July 24, 2006
A river doesn't run through the Hotel Chelsea, where Dylan Thomas exclaimed, days before he died from drink in 1953, I've had 18 straight whiskeys'.
There are no mounted elk heads with antlers, either, or spools of 30-pound fishing line in the Hotel Chelsea lobby, which is filled with modern art like the purple sculpture of a fat woman on a swing.
And there are no eight-ounce bags of frozen fish bait anywhere near the famous bathroom, where, in 1978, Sid Vicious, the punk rocker, discovered his girlfriend, Nancy Spungen, dead.
But two doors down from the entrance to the Hotel Chelsea, and part of its ornate 11-story complex, is a world where such things are quite familiar: Capitol Fishing Tackle, the only bait and tackle shop in Manhattan.
About the size of a large fishing cabin, Capitol Fishing has been purveyor to youngster and grandpa, the wealthy and not, to the trout angler in streams and the big-game mahi-mahi fisherman in the ocean, as well as to Andy Warhol and Fabio.
For 42 years, the store has been selling to fisher folk as if it were located in Montana or the Florida Panhandle, instead of between an acupuncture store and a guitar shop on West 23rd Street.
Next week, Capitol Fishing, complete with its old oak fixtures and its hot-yellow neon sign, is moving out of the Hotel Chelsea, the shrine for the hip and literati, because of rising rents.
To the relief of the New York fishing community, the store is reopening on Aug. 1on
West 36th Street, near Broadway
, in the garment district.
I am so glad it's moving and not closing, said Ricky Williams, 51, a landscape architect from Ossining, N.Y., who likes to fish striped bass. A Capitol Fishing customer for 22 years, he wandered the store, taking photographs with his cellphone.
In other words, this is not the end-of-an-era story, although, at one point, the store did come close to shutting its doors.
Which is not to say that things are going to stay the same. For one thing, the worlds of angler and artist won't meet any more on this stretch of West 23rd Street.
Sid Vicious used to come in here with Nancy Spungen, said Richard Collins, 51, a former clerk who has owned the store for the past 32 years. Mr. Collins, who is known as Richie, makes this statement as if he were describing Sheriff Andy Taylor dropping by with his young son, Opie, on The Andy Griffith Show.
The bass player for the Sex Pistols and his heroin-addicted girlfriend were depicted in the 1986 film Sid and Nancy, starring Gary Oldman and Chloe Webb. The real Sid and Nancy used to live in the Hotel Chelsea. He died of a drug overdose a few months after she died.
Dressed in black leather and sporting a Mohawk, Sid Vicious liked browsing, Mr. Collins recalled. ?He bought a couple of rods and reels, so I know he was freshwater fishing, Mr. Collins said. ?He was hot and heavy for a little while, and then Mr. Collins's voice trailed off, not knowing whether the musician's drug addiction had finally stopped him from visiting the store.
Most of Mr. Collins's customers have nothing in common, except the love of fishing, he said. An example: Lewis Glucksman, the Wall Street financier who died this month.
Lew Glucksman, Mr. Collins said, would sit here and come in, with his limousine parked out in front, and Lew would sit down on a bench and have lunch and talk to local guys who were fishing, just like he was a local guy.
And then there are the unlikely customers Mr. Collins likes to mention, like Fabio, the model, who came in to buy items for his brother. Or Andy Warhol, who would buy high-test fishing line to hang paintings. Or the late Harold Robbins, author of potboilers like The Carpetbaggers.
Unlike Orvis, a specialty retailer famed for its $1,800 bamboo fishing rod, Capitol Fishing is more of the General Motors of fishing supplies, but closer to Chevy than to Cadillac.
A box of fishhooks goes for $3, hip waders for $30. Even so, if a customer needs equipment for giant tuna, he can spend $2,000 for a heavy-duty rod and test line, with a reel the circumference of a long-playing record.
Mr. Collins, who was born in Brooklyn and raised in North Miami, is the son of a fishing-tackle maker. Mr. Collins moved to New York in 1973 to work for a family friend, Charles Neeff (pronounced Neff), the owner of Capitol Fishing.
Mr. Neeffs family had started the business in Germany in 1897 (proud immigrants, they named the business after the Capitol in Washington). The Hotel Chelsea was its fourth location in the city.
In failing health, Mr. Neeff sold the business to the young Mr. Collins.
The recession after the Sept. 11 attack, as well as new government restrictions on fishing, hurt the retail business. Facing higher rent if he stayed at the Hotel Chelsea, Mr. Collins considered closing the store. Luckily, a real estate broker introduced him to Steven J. Kaufman, who offered Mr. Collins a modestly higher rent, but less than he would be paying at the hotel if he stayed, and a 15-year lease in the garment district.
Mr. Kaufman has been a Capitol Fishing customer for more than 30 years. Sitting next to Mr. Collins, Mr. Kaufman smiled as Mr. Collins talked about the new store.
I never want to move this store again, Mr. Collins said.
Mr. Kaufman shrugged and said, Me neither.