This one hurts: The heart and soul of Seattle’s urban fishing culture for generations, Linc’s Tackle, is closing down. A pioneering immigrant family used the dusty shop to school tens of thousands of Seattleites in how to fish, crab and squid.
In the end, it was a fishing knot that told Jerry Beppu it was time to go.
The longtime owner of Linc’s Fishing Tackle in Seattle, and the grandson of a pioneering Seattle family, Beppu was tying a knot on a reel for a customer one day when he realized he couldn’t do it anymore.
“I’m going blind,” he told me in his dusty store on the edge of the International District. “I’ve got glaucoma. I had to ask the customer to come behind the counter and tie the knot for me. That’s when I knew.”
Of the dwindling legacy businesses left in Seattle, Linc’s Tackle has got to be the one closest to the heart of old Seattle culture.
Not just because it’s ramshackle. Or that it evokes an era when the city was still, at heart, a fishing village.
But because this one tackle shop has schooled tens of thousands of Seattleites, maybe a couple of hundred thousand all told, in how and where to fish, to crab, to squid — to supplement their diets directly from city waters.
“We’ve had six generations coming through here, learning old Seattle ways,” Jerry says.
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Now it’s due to close — another hit in a parade of closures erasing the old city before our eyes.
Linc’s Tackle, on Rainier Avenue South, is under contract to be sold to make way for a four-story office building. As of now the tackle shop’s last days are planned for March.
“Everybody loves Linc’s,” says Mohamed Sulayman, 36, a customer in to buy brightly colored squid jigs on a recent rainy morning. “Linc’s is all they talk about down on the docks. Anybody asks any question, everybody says, ‘Go to Linc’s!’ ”
As a result, over the years Jerry, 77, and his wife, Maria, 73, have schooled everybody from John Wayne to SuperSonics basketball players to a string of governors — Dan Evans, John Spellman, Gary Locke — in how to fish. Their community knowledge is encyclopedic, ranging from where the Nordstrom family fishes to who’s coming and going on the police force (a lot of the cops fish) to the news that my fishaholic neighbor Carla recently lost her mother.
“Those two, Carla and her mom, those were some strong fishing buddies,” Maria recalls.
The motto of the shop is: “Put a rod in a kid’s hand and they will learn what patience is.” When customers leave the shop, bursting with hope, Jerry often calls out after them: “Patience and luck!”
The shop almost didn’t exist, due to xenophobia. When Jerry’s dad, Linc, started it as Togo’s Tackle in the 1930s, he had to put up a sign to reassure white people: “Togo’s — Owned and Operated by American Citizens.” The family had been living in Seattle for nearly 50 years at that point.
Then Pearl Harbor happened. When the Beppus were imprisoned at Idaho’s Camp Minidoka in 1942, a downtown building owner named Joshua Green agreed to store the cash register and the glass cases if they ever came back.
Eight years later, they did, reopening the store in its current location as Linc’s. They’re still using the same cash register and glass cases.
“Green never charged my Dad a nickel for that,” Jerry says.
When I first started going to Linc’s to buy lures, in the 1980s, it was like a third place for fish people. Jerry had an ice shelf outside where fishermen could display their best catches. People would sit on stools at the glass lure case like it was a bar. The shop also, strangely, sold Honda motorcycles. There was nothing like it.
Many of the customers were Vietnamese, Cambodians, Laotians and Filipinos who fished as much for food as sport, Jerry says. Still do.
“We may not be a fishing village anymore, but you’d be surprised what’s going on out there on the water any given day — or night,” he said.
I know one of my most recent columns was about vanishing Seattle as well. Sorry, but this is what we’re doing in this city right now. And this one hurts.
Jerry tears up when I tell them how much Seattle owes them. Maria has a different reaction.
“You can’t stop progress,” she said. “I look at all the change going on in Seattle, and I say that the key is that if you have an appreciation for what’s here while it’s here, and you savor that, then that’s its own reward.”
On my way out, Jerry taps a hand-lettered sign that by the looks of it has been there since the time of the moon landing.
“Don’t forget your worms and maggots,” it reads.
Sound advice you won’t see in any other Seattle store, and maybe not in our glittering city again.