Angler finds a home on Narragansett Bay
Went fishin' and didn't come back
There’s an old saying about when to make a decision that has been a staple for seagoing communities for a long time: “It’s time to fish or cut bait.” Greg Bruning decided he could do both and bought the financially troubled Tackle Box on West Shore Road in Warwick.
“The business was failing when I bought it,” said Bruning. “I’ve been fishing all my life and this was something I knew about.”
So far, it’s worked out well. Bruning says he’s quadrupled the sales in the shop but that comes at a cost. He said he works about 91 hours a week. He’s there from 5 a.m. to 8 p.m. Friday through Sunday and 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. other days, except Tuesday, when it’s 9 a.m. to 7 p.m.
But he’s not complaining. If anything, he feels retired in a way.
“I used to be in the construction business, moving around the country building retail malls and stores,” he explained. “In that job I was in the middle, getting stress from the people I worked for and stress from the people who worked for me.”
Bruning grew up in Fort Collins, Colo., a state where taking time off for hunting and fishing seems to be written into law. But making your way in the world often means doing other, less attractive things to make a living, like construction work.
“We came here when I was building the Ann Taylor store in Garden City,” he said. “We had been all over the country, but my wife [Michelle] and I both liked the idea of living here. The people are friendly. If you’re standing in line for anything, people will turn around and talk to you. We like it here.”
Ironically, the Brunings came to Rhode Island just after 9/11. Ironic because Greg was a Marine veteran of the chaos that was Somalia in 1993 and the insanity of that place seemed to be spreading around the world.
“It was a messy place,” said Bruning, who was deployed at the airport at that time. “Imagine about 128 separate clans and tribes all wanting to run one place.”
International efforts to bring peace and stability to that failed state led to the biggest battle involving U.S. troops since the Vietnam War. It was the conflict at the heart of the movie and book called “Black Hawk Down” and the event that gave our soldiers and diplomats a glimpse of what the world would be like after the fall of the Soviet Union.
“It was the children that suffered the most,” said Bruning. “They used to wait for garbage day and then they would form groups and fight each other with rocks and slingshots to get control of the garbage. We finally decided to just bury it to stop the fighting.”
Bruning was also dismayed at the way older kids, with no sense of what they were doing or the danger they were in, were used as soldiers.
“If one kid got killed, they would just push him out of the way and get another one,” he said, unhappily.
Unfortunately, or fortunately, Bruning was injured in Somalia and left the Marine Corps and entered the construction business, but he continues to maintain the “Semper Fi” spirit.
He said he has worked in 30 separate states and Japan before deciding to move to Rhode Island. Unfortunately, the ups and downs of the construction business left Bruning idle too much of the time and what work he did find was not much fun.
“I actually got to know the state a lot better when I was working for the census,” he said.
With two grown boys and just his 8-year-old daughter at home, and his wife with a career in real estate, he decided to buy the Tackle Box. He was somewhat annoyed at all the hoops and hurdles of starting a business here, but now he’s very pleased with the results. He likes the work and he gets to stay home from November until April.
“That gives me plenty of time to hunt and fish, which I always loved to do,” he said. “I have hunting and fishing friends. I also make my own lures and rods, although it’s more like assembling them than making them.”
Bruning started making rods for his personal use, but he once let a friend use one of his homemade poles and the man was very impressed and said he wanted one just like it.
“I make about 20 or 30 a year,” said Bruning, with a grin. “I call it the Marine Corps rod.”
Bruning estimates about half the lures on sale at the Tackle Box were made by him, but lately he’s started another sideline: Making motorized bicycles, again, more assembling than making.
“I buy the kits and the bicycles and put them together,” he said. “It takes about three and a half to four hours to complete one and then I sell them.”
He didn’t plan on selling them. He said he initially was looking for cheap transportation from Norwood to Hoxsie. The bikes can go up to 30 miles per hour and get more than 100 miles per gallon. He ordered one but then found out, as a father and businessman, with an infinite number of errands to be run, it really wasn’t that practical after all.
“I didn’t think it all the way through,” he said, somewhat sheepishly. “So I sold it and a few others I’ve done since. Besides, having one outside with a For Sale sign brings people in.”
As soon as you are inside, you know you are in the realm of an angler and hunter. If his Lab “Hunter” doesn’t greet you with a bark, “Bozo,” the African Gray parrot will greet you with a whistle.
“He’s a rescue, and he’s 30 years old,” said Bruning. “When I decided to adopt him, I called the parrot rescue place [in South County] for advice. They told me I should put Bozo in my will, so I did.”
So far, Bozo hasn’t picked up any dreadful language to repeat but he will imitate the sound of just about anything he hears.
“He doesn’t do the phone ringing but he has got me with the doorbell. I sometimes hear it and look up at the screen and see that no one has come in.”
Bruning is also very committed to his 8-year-old daughter, Sarah, who he describes as a very beautiful, very bright child who constantly charms him.
“She comes in and helps me sometimes,” said Bruning, “especially when there is something she wants. She does helpful things around here and I give her 5 bucks a day.”
How does an 8-year-old girl stand working in a smelly old bait shop?
“They call it stinky,” said Bruning. “I call it the smell of success.”