You cannot think about Dick Smith, longtime owner of Dick Smith's Live Bait & Tackle, without thinking about the American dream.
In 1982, Smith was a husband, father of four and machinist at Milwaukee Chaplet in New Berlin when he decided to take a chance on himself. He opened Dick Smith’s Live Bait & Taxidermy in Delafield that year near Interstate 94 and Highway 83, working full time at his store and the machine shop for two years before quitting his machinist job and working for himself.
“He loved fishing. He had a real passion for fishing, and his dream was to open up a bait and tackle store,” said Smith's son, Mike Smith, who now runs the business with his sister, Becky, after their father retired in 2005. “He was able to secure financing and bought the assets from the bank and opened up the store in November of 1982.”
Smith, whose name is synonymous with angler expertise in Lake Country, died Saturday, Nov. 26. He was 77.
With dozens of lakes in the area, Delafield was a seemingly perfect place to begin selling fishing supplies. But Smith wasn't interested in just selling supplies. He wanted to provide knowledge.
“His whole thing was educating people how to fish, and that's what really drew people to the store,” Mike Smith said.
“It's interesting because my dad, he was a high school educated blue-collar, hard-working guy. Now, he's into the retail business where he was merchandising, he was purchasing, pricing, he was working with customers, and he wasn't the most outgoing guy. He was shy, and he said he was shy when he opened the store.”
Smith made his living off anglers in the community, but his involvement in the sport was much greater than just providing products. He wrote books and articles on fishing; he held seminars, and he held clinics to teach people to fish. He wanted people to fish because he knew the joy it brought him, and he wanted everyone to share that pleasure.
“He involved kids in fishing in a number of kids' clinics, which we still do today,” Mike Smith said. “He kind of started that back in the day.”
A lifelong learner, Smith had a deep-seated desire to master anything he got his hands on. Along with the fishing book he published, Smith published a cookbook with his favorite recipes. He brewed his own beer for several years. He took up woodworking and oil painting.
When Smith learned something new in life, he could not wait to share that with those around him, his son said.
“He was a very caring, funny, eventually outgoing, educating type of man. He was very upfront. He told you how he felt, and he really wanted to help people get knowledge of catching fish and knowing the area,” Mike Smith said.
And with that desire to share what he learned in life with those around him, Smith constantly instilled in his children the proper way to run a business.
“He's always taught us hard work and treating customers right. They're the future of your business. To make sure the customer is satisfied when they leave the store, just making sure we educate them, bring up new fishing equipment to them, that type of thing," Mike Smith said.
With a wife and four children to provide for in 1984, Smith could have stuck with his machinist job, which provided a reliable income and stability for his family. But instead, he worked twice as hard getting a business off the ground in order to do what he loved and still provide for his family.
“Looking back, he had my mom when he opened the store, he had four kids," Mike Smith said. "It was really brave of him to go and open a store like that and really support a family and to really work hard and do that successfully.”