by Jeff Johnson, photo by Peter DiAntoni
A soft-spoken man with a plug of tobacco stuffed in his cheek, Acie White has the patient demeanor of a fisherman who has spent many pleasurable hours angling the banks of rivers and lakes. He greets potential customers at the door of the A & C Sport and Bait Shop a block west of Holton on Center Street along with his dog Chico. His shop is open 24 hours a day, providing a first stop for setting off early in the hope of catching a few fish. White runs the business with his two sons, Greg and Tommy. Anglers entering the shop will find poles and reels hanging from the ceiling; lures, lines, hooks, bobbers, and lead weights lining the walls; several worn fishing hats hanging from hooks; refrigerators and freezers for bait; wax worms in rows of plastic containers; and the ever-present bubbling of tanks swimming with minnows. White started the business in 1969 after watching a friend run a bait shop. “I thought it would be an easy job. But this business is like falling in love… if I had known how hard it was going to be I might not have done it.” The business grew slowly over the first ten to 15 years. “There were days we only took in two or three dollars at first.” He gained customers through word of mouth and by placing ads with Dr. Bop on WAWA radio. In 1969 there were also bait shops on Wright Street and on Holton and Hadley, but now A & C is the only one left in Riverwest . White says that the best part of the business is the people he meets. Many of his neighborhood customers claim A & C as their own, referring to it as “my bait shop.” To keep the shop open 24 hours a day, White sleeps on a cot in the back room of the store. “People will call me in the middle of the night to find out where the fish are biting.” White is happy to share what he knows. White and his wife have 12 children, all of whom have helped with the store at one time or another. Currently his two boys are left to help him. One does all the bookkeeping while the other is interested in taking over the business. His wife has kept her distance from the bait shop. White loves to fish himself. “I’ve fished everywhere, from the Mississippi, to Beaver Dam Lake, to the Milwaukee River, to Lake Michigan.” But lately his feet are beginning to give out on him and he has a difficult time getting to the places that he used to go. When asked about fishing the Milwaukee River, he says that Walleye, Northern, Crappie, Trout, Salmon, and Blue Gill all can be caught down in the valley. Recently one of his customers landed a trophy Walleye out of the river that was suitable for mounting. In the valley fishing is limited to the hours from one half hour before sunrise to one half hour after sunset. “But you can fish downtown twenty four hours a day.” “I said that last year was going to be my last year,” muses White, “but here I still am. Maybe one more and then I’ll go somewhere where they can mail me my checks…” Most likely he’ll be off fishing. Riverwest Currents – Volume 2 – Issue 4 – April 2003
Acie White at A&C Sport and Bait Shop.