Rack & Reel now open in New Haven
NEW HAVEN — Cars packed the parking lot on the west side of Route 7 in New Haven Junction this past weekend. Sure, some people hit the highway to enjoy the unseasonably warm weather, but others came for the grand opening of Rack & Reel, a hunting and sporting goods store.
“The community has been beyond receptive,” co-owner Bridget Kipp said. “So many people have come in here thanking us, saying it was needed in the area, and that they’ll be back.”
Kipp owns the store with her husband, John. The pair has lived in Addison County for more than 30 years, and said Rack & Reel is a product of their lifelong devotion to the great outdoors.
“We both hunt and fish; it’s part of our love of the outdoors,” Bridget Kipp said. “When the opportunity (to start this store) arose, we took one whole week to think about it and then made the decision to go forward with it.”
So, the Kipps decided to rent the building just across from the Jiffy Mart at the intersection of Routes 7 and 17. It is the former home of Knits and Bolts, a knitting supplies store that closed in 2013.
Rack & Reel is an outfitter of hunting, fishing and sporting goods. In addition to rods and lures, it has a federal firearms license, and carries rifles, shotguns and pistols, as well as accessories such as targets and scopes. The store also sells muzzleloaders and black powder. Though the state’s muzzleloader deer hunting season is just a week long, Bridget Kipp said muskets are enjoying a resurgence in recreational popularity, and are used in some biathlons.
Just in time for bow season, the store carries both compound and recurve bows, plus tree stands and decoys. It also employs a bow technician. On the sporting goods side, the store sells clothing, footwear, camping gear and kayaks.
Kipp said she wants Rack & Reel to fill a niche in Addison County, where she says there aren’t many stores to purchase sporting goods.
“Where’s the closest place you’re going to buy a kayak, or camping supplies?” she said.
Neither Kipp has any experience in retail. Bridget works at a credit union while John owns his own mechanical and fabricating business. Both plan to stick to their day jobs until Rack & Reel gets off the ground.
The store will be open seven days a week, though the Kipps are still figuring out what hours will work best. Right now, the store employs four people. Day-to-day, the store is run by manager John Falk.
Bridget Kipp said they’re still learning the tricks of the trade, which they see as one of the challenges they face. For example, she said they’re still getting used to buying inventory a season ahead of time.
“A lot of people purchase in August for the winter, and in the winter for the spring, so a lot of stuff wasn’t available when we tried to (buy it),” she said. “We were behind the eight ball a little bit.”
Nevertheless, most of the shop’s 4,600 square feet of showroom space was filled with merchandise, just in time for the fall. And if there’s something that a customer can’t find, the Kipps said they’d gladly order it.
In addition to selling wares, the couple plans to host seminars on a variety of topics, such as how to call birds and craft fishing lures. They also plan to work with local fish and game wardens to provide hunter safety courses.
“We think we could set up a classroom and do something like that,” Bridget Kipp said.
John Kipp said the bow area was particularly busy last weekend, which he attributed to bow deer and turkey seasons, which open on Oct. 4, and archery leagues. Rack & Reel also has bows for novices and children, and he hopes to get more people involved in the sport.
“We’re going to try and get archery more involved at the local high schools,” Kipp said, “and try and keep the sport from dying.”
In the future, the Kipps said they hope to build an indoor archery range behind the shop, so archers can practice year-round. John Kipp said he’s also in the process of installing a state-certified big game weigh station on the 2.5-acre property.
Kipp said he wants his store to not only sell quality products, but also provide exemplary service.
“If you want stuff for cheap, you can go online,” he said. “Our guy is going to set you up with a fly pole, and he’s going to take you out back and show how to cast it, and show you what kind of lures to get.”
The Kipps said they have hired employees that are knowledgeable about the department they represent, such as guns, bows and outdoor gear. He said and the staff at Rack & Reel can provide expertise and local insight that chain stores cannot.
“If you come here from out of state and are wondering what to fish, what they’re biting on, where to go, we know all of that,” he said. “We’re going to save you a lot of guesswork.”
Excited on Sunday afternoon by a strong first weekend, undoubtedly bolstered by beautiful weather, Bridget Kipp said she was impressed with how things have been going so far, but remained modest.
“It’s a work in progress, but it’s coming along,” she said.