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Keepin’ it Fly: Local fishing shop buys, renovates 143-year-old building

The new shop has two-and-a-half times the amount of the space

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March 18, 2024

RIVER FALLS – The Lund name has a long history of serving the River Falls area going back more than 150 years – first with Andrew William Lund who moved to the area in 1873 from Minneapolis to make carriages.

Today, the Lund name lives on through Lund’s Fly Shop – a full-service fly shop owned and operated by Brian Smolinski.

Though before we can look to the future, we must first reflect on the past.

A look back

Over the years, the carriage-making shop transitioned into more of a hardware store – selling everything from Willys Jeeps to home appliances and everything in between.

In the 1970s, Smolinski said fishing tackle was added – geared toward the trout fishers coming to the Kinnickinnic River, which runs through the heart of River Falls.

By the 1990s, Smolinski said the fishing tackle department inside Lund’s Hardware started to specialize more in fly fishing gear and was becoming a destination shop for the many trout anglers in the Twin Cities.

Lund’s Hardware was owned and operated by Fred Benson, and his family owned the hardware store for multiple generations.

Smolinski said he started working at the hardware store in 2001 and began managing it around 2005.

As the fly shop side of the business continued to grow, he said the shop began using the name “Lund’s Hardware & Fly Shop” in its marketing and advertising materials

Smolinski said when the owners approached retirement age, he was given an opportunity to purchase the business – an opportunity, he said he just couldn’t pass up.

Growing up with a father who also owned a business, he said it was a natural inclination for him to be a business owner.

Smolinski said he considered keeping the hardware store going in addition to the fly shop because he was actively managing both but said he knew his heart was in the fly shop side of things.

“That was the side of the business I was most excited to keep going,” he said. “I had already formulated a business plan for that.”

In 2011, the hardware side of the business closed, and Smolinski opened Lund’s Fly Shop in a new location just a block away, specializing in fly patterns for trout, panfish, bass, pike, muskie and more.

Armed with the knowledge he learned from the Bensons over the years, Smolinski said he was ready to lead the Lund name into its next chapter.

A niche, but large customer base

Smolinski said it helps that the Kinnickinnic River, also known locally as “The Kinni,” is a staple in River Falls.

He said the running joke with him is that’s the whole reason there’s a fly fishing shop in town.

In terms of naturally reproducing fish, Smolinski said The Kinni is ranked in the 95th percentile in the state and has some of the best trout fishing in the region.

Smolinski said he has regular regional customers from Wisconsin and Minnesota.

He said he also has people from around the country who come specifically for fly fishing vacations – including a big fan of the shop from South Carolina who has been visiting the shop since its hardware store days.

“He said, ‘I’ve been coming here for years. I don’t understand why there’s not more people like me coming from all over the country (to fly fish in this region),’” Smolinski said. “‘But don’t get me wrong, I’m glad they’re not, I have the place to myself.’”

Smolinski said he knows he’s got a specialty shop for a specialty hobby – which helps hone in his customer base.

“They generally have their favorite go-to shop,” he said. “It’s a unique thing – which is why there’s such a large area for our customer base.”

The new shop

A handful of weeks ago, Lund’s Fly Shop entered another chapter – moving across the street to a new, larger location.

Smolinski said he is excited to see how the coming year is going to go with the customers coming to the new store – seeing their reactions, talking to them and, of course, selling products

Those long-time customers, he said, will immediately notice the size difference of the new shop.

“The main floor retail space is nearly double of our old shop,” he said. “But also all the great character of this building from 1881 is truly eye-catching. The high ceilings, huge front windows, 143-year-old maple floors and huge loft above the retail space add to this magical building.”

Before moving into the new location, Smolinski said people would ask how he could fill such a large space.

“Now that we have moved in, most people don’t believe we haven’t added a ton of new merchandise,” he said.

While he loved the old location, Smolinski said square footage had always been a struggle.

“Thankfully, the building we bought and moved into happened to be at the top of my list (of potential relocation spots),” he said.

At the previous location, Smolinski said if a new product was brought in, typically a different product would need to be phased out to make room.

When you compare about 1,000 square feet with about 2,500 square feet, Smolinski said the new store has more than enough room to add new products as interest and trends change, without having to get rid of others.

Items, Smolinski said, are spread out and organized a bit better now as well.

“We had it crammed in the old shop,” he said.

The additional square footage, Smolinski said, also allows Lund’s to carry a larger variety of items.

“I think that was one of the pushes to get a bigger space,” he said. “As we were working on setting the shop up, people would sit outside staring through the windows. It’s awesome to see their excitement about what they can buy.” 

The shop, Smolinski said, will also stock more general necessity items – like clothing, socks and shoes – because in the small community of River Falls, it is sometimes a struggle to find these items.

One trend Smolinski said he noticed a few years ago when he added Darn Tough socks to the shop’s inventory was the traffic from customers who had never been in a fly shop before.

“They were excited to support a local small business located in the heart of their community,” he said.

One of the goals of the added space, Smolinski said, is to carry more products that folks who don’t fly fish can get excited to find locally.

He said he’s already placed an order for some Patagonia clothing for this fall.

Smolinski said he also hopes to host fly-tying events and classes in the loft space above the retail area.

A varied history of the building

Smolinski said records show the building was built in 1881 as a law firm, but by 1890, it seems to have transitioned to, ironically, a hardware store.

During the 1900s, he said it housed many different clothing stores – and was most recently a bike store.

Smolinski said his first experience with the building was in the 1990s when it was a bookstore with a coffee shop inside of it.

“Even back then, it struck me as a unique space with great architecture… that first time seeing the inside of the building stuck with me,” he said.

Renovating the building

Smolinski said for him – though he knew it was a building with a lot of character that fell slightly into disrepair over the years – the buzz around the community surrounding the project made the renovations even more exciting.

“We didn’t know what we would find as we peeled back the layers,” he said.

Shortly after they began remodeling, Smolinski said he uncovered the building’s original woodwork – which had been covered up over the decades with all sorts of carpet, linoleum, veneer, vinyl and plywood.

Smolinski said the project was a labor of love – filled with blood, sweat and a few tears.

“It’s always been easier and cheaper to cover up things than to fix them properly,” he said. “Peeling back six layers of flooring was a ton of work, but to be able to restore 143-year-old maple flooring was worth every drop of sweat equity.”

In the updating process, Smolinski said they took advantage of rebates from the city and state for lighting upgrades – converting to 100% efficient LED lighting – and are in the process of looking at grant money and low-interest loans for exterior building restoration and facade work.

Smolinski said he is excited for what lies ahead for the “cool old building with a ton of character” factor going into 2024 and beyond – plus, he said, it’s still in a great location, as close as you can get to the center of downtown.

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