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Robby Byrum is going fishing.
Family-owned Byrum’s General Store, a longtime fixture in the Steele Creek community, is closing come September after 122 years in business.
Built in 1890, the southwest Mecklenburg County fishing tackle store has recently endured the construction of Interstate 485 a couple hundred yards away and increasing congestion on N.C. 160.
But competition from big-box stores and online shopping eventually became too hard on Byrum’s, which will close Sept. 1.
Robby Byrum, 57, has swept the floors at the store since he was 10. Now he presides over it, though his 87-year-old mother still manages the books.
For the last year and a half, the store has only made enough to pay the bills and is not a viable business anymore, Byrum said.
“It really came to a point where there’s a hard and fine line and you have to say, ‘Am I making money, or is this just a hobby?’ ” he said. “It’s tough to go. I hate to be the one to break the chain.”
Stores like Academy and Bass Pro Shops have sapped his business, but the biggest drain has come from the Internet.
“The big-ticket items have basically fallen off since the Internet and the smartphone,” he said, adding that it’s too easy to go online and get the same merchandise for 50 percent off, free shipping included.
The 2,400-square-foot store is bright, stocked with a rainbow of potato chips and soda, its walls lined with thousands of lures in every color. Hundreds more fishing rods range from $9.99 to $470. Worn wooden floors creak under customers’ feet as they line up at the register for hot dogs and barbecue, the store’s bestsellers.
“It’s probably the best hot dog and barbecue in Charlotte, bar none,” Byrum said.
In over a century, Byrum’s has evolved from a dry goods store, to a grocery and butcher shop, to a gas station, to a hot dog joint, to the fishing tackle store it is now. Many of the store’s more than 300 regular customers have been stopping by every day for decades.
Byrum jokes with customers, and when he tells them the store is closing in September, they groan, shout in protest and plead with him to say it’s just a joke.
Thomas Richmond of Rock Hill said he’s been visiting Byrum’s for 20 years, always making a stop on his way home from work.
“(Lures) like the A.C. Shiners I just bought, you can’t find them around,” he said. “It’s going to hurt the fishermen a lot.”
Other customers said it’s impossible to find a place like Byrum’s anymore.
“I’ve been going to this place for 40 years, a few times a week,” said customer Jamie Gamble of Charlotte. “I may just have to do without. I’m just bummed.”
Byrum said the store is like home. “I’m about to start crying in a minute,” he said.
for a beauty parlor to occupy the space, though no paperwork has been signed.
Had Byrum’s dreams panned out, the space would be transformed into a full-time restaurant with a kitchen and bathrooms. He has blueprints rolled up in the back of the store that he still hopes he’ll get to use one day.
“I might do it yet,” he said.
But until then, find Byrum with a fishing rod in hand.
“I’m going fishing, plain and simple, as soon as I can get the place cleaned up and hand over the keys,” he said.
“You’ll just see me on the water more.”