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Business

Bait shop answers a demand

For owner Ted Peluso, Hernando Bait & Tackle is not just about minnows and gear, it's about the people who come there.

By SUZANNAH GONZALES
© St. Petersburg Times
published February 16, 2003


HERNANDO -- At Hernando Bait & Tackle, the community comes first.

After all, the community asked for it.

When Happy's Bait and Tackle in Inverness closed down, Hernando shop owner Ted Peluso said, people came into his Dunnellon bait and tackle store saying, "We need another store."

So he sold the successful shop in Dunnellon that he had for more than three years and started looking for a new location in the county.

Peluso, 48, ended up selecting a building in Hernando at U.S. 41 and State Road 200, right on the shores of the Tsala Apopka Lake chain.

"I chose Hernando because this is a beautiful site, and it's always been a bait and tackle store at one point or another," Peluso said.

Peluso waited for the water levels to rise before opening his new shop on Oct. 15. It was a frustrating wait, Peluso said, but the support from the community has been overwhelming.

"Hi. Got to check out the new bait store," said one man who stopped in one recent afternoon. People come in like that every day, Peluso said.

Some stop in during the mornings. Others buy bait right before the store closes at 6 p.m., then fish off the dock out back until midnight or 1 a.m. Peluso once left minnows by the door for a customer who couldn't make it to the store before closing.

The shop also attracts snowbirds with a fishing whim. And then there are 25 to 30 regulars, the people who come into the shop every day -- sometimes just to have a cup of coffee or to say hello.

Bass fisherman Roger Kaercher is one of those regulars.

Kaercher has been fishing off the dock behind the shop in the five years he has lived in Hernando. A couple pf days before the shop opened, Peluso offered him a cup of coffee while he was fishing.

Since that first meeting, Kaercher, a Vietnam veteran like Peluso, has gone from being a customer, to a volunteer store helper, to Peluso's friend.

"I kind of found a new family, you know?"

Before, Kaercher explained, the site was just an empty building in an abandoned area. Now, Peluso has cleaned up the area, and families come out and fish at night behind the shop.

Peluso has been sleeping in a trailer behind his shop. He wants to get to know the area, the lake, his customers and their needs. Twenty-four hours a day, he said, people are on the lake or shore.

"That's how much they have for the lake, for the water, for this whole chain of lakes," Peluso said.

He is stocking the store with only what the community needs according to each season. Right now, for the colder weather, he has No. 4 hooks and ultralight rods and reels. But the store also carries the full line of Gamakatsu hooks, SOS baits and Rogue rods. And you can rent a boat and get fishing licenses, fast repair service and minnows for a dollar a dozen.

In his store, Peluso said, the price will always be right.

For Peluso, it's not about the cash register. He would rather have a good relationship with the community. He wants to listen to people and understand them, he said, and "be a part of their world as they have mine."

Peluso has been fishing for decades, since he was 6. He has fished for bass, fished competitively and done commercial fishing in his native Cape Cod. "I have tried everything," he said.

But what he likes best is what he's doing now. "I find it in the tackle store," he said. "I find it in these people."

-- Suzannah Gonzales can be reached at 860-7312 or sgonzales@sptimes.com.

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