When the bar doors at Turner’s Sportsfair opened at 10 a.m. Wednesday, the regulars rolled in for a slightly premature wake. They’d just heard that their home away from home — Boise’s only cocktail-lounge-and-fishing-tackle-emporium – was going out of business.
So, over midmorning PBR and shots of well bourbon, they entered into Boise’s testy civic conversation in the dark little bar where everyone knows their names: Are we growing too fast? Are we losing too much? Is this burgeoning little city losing its soul?
And, no less important, where will we drink come May?
That’s when owner John Turner will shut the business his family has owned since 1941. He’s the third generation to operate the quirky enterprise at 4026 W. State St. in Boise, and there is no fourth to take over when he retires. The 63-year-old put Sportsfair up for sale in October, asking price $835,814 for the real estate and business together.
On Tuesday, the Vanishing Boise Facebook page announced the news: “Another State Street mainstay, Turner’s Sportsfair, was recently purchased and is closing. … The unlikely pairing of fishing tackle and a cocktail bar is another great loss to Boise’s vanishing family-owned local businesses – the kind that built this place and give it its unique character.”
Scott Wilfong, a longtime Boise resident in a bright Hawaiian shirt, was a little more to the point. “It sucks,” he said, before heading over to the video game in the corner of the lounge. “That’s about all. The bar, throughout the 35 years I’ve been coming here, pours the best drink in Boise. They’ve got friendly people, good people.”
Dusty chalkboards are lined up behind Turner’s bar with the names of dozens of those friendly people along with their favorite libations. It’s a bartending tool that helps you buy a drink for the guy four stools over. But through the years it also has become a kind of local memorial.
“Half of those people aren’t even with us,” said Rachel Fenton, Boise born and bred and sipping an ice-cold screwdriver. “There’s been a lot of wakes out of here.”
Fenton rues the fast pace of growth, the worsening Treasure Valley traffic and the impending loss of her favorite watering hole. Just down the bar, a man who gives his name as “Thoroughly Incognito” ponders what he calls the “dichotomy” of Old Boise versus New.
“We’re losing one more of the little things that make people want to come here,” he said. “I don’t like it.”
Turner said the current construction on State Street near his shop was not a factor in his decision to sell. However, the combination of Snowmageddon a year ago and the work on rebuilding State’s intersection with Veterans Memorial Parkway have cut into his business.
On this morning, as always, he mans the cash register in the sporting goods half of the family business. A steady stream of customers – and a woman needing a buck to cover bus fare – comes through the cluttered little store.
Along with the $4.99 Wiggle Warts and $1.99 Chickabou Jigs, there are cases of beer and lottery tickets, camo vests and fishing rods and packs of Marlboro Blacks. Signs hawk “1/2 PRICE SPORTING GOODS (Except bait) & AMMO.”
Jim Hungerford, owner of Boise Appliance & Refrigeration, spills a collection of colorful flies onto the counter in front of Turner.
“I hear you’re closing,” says a rueful Hungerford. “I figured I better get ... down here.”
They talk for a while about where else the fisherman could find the tackle he has purchased from Turner since, well, “forever.” The internet is probably his best bet, he admits, once the shop closes around May 1.
“I’ve been here since 1977 when I moved from Chicago,” Hungerford says. “Back then, they said, ‘growth, growth, growth.’ I said, ‘no, no, no.’ Look at it now.”
He pays for the flies and heads for the door: “Thanks, buddy. I’ll be in before you go.”
Turner’s grandfather was the first proprietor of the oddly grafted businesses, back when one side was a bar and the other a grocery store. The old man ran cattle in Sun Valley before the tony ski town existed. Turner’s father was the one who ventured into sporting goods.
“Businesses come and go,” Turner said. “It’s just time. I don’t have any kids to pass it on to, and my nephews have good jobs. Even if I had kids, I wouldn’t have them do this.”
Turner will not say who bought the property, which is slightly more than an acre and includes a duplex along with the business. Nor would he say what the new owner plans to do with it.
Depending on how you want to read it, the sales brochure is either heartening or terrifying, an enticement to run a similar business along busy State Street or a good reason to tear the aging structures down and start anew.
“Over three generations of customers have been coming to the store and bar,” the brochure boasts, “from soldiers returning from WWII to young children who learned how to count their pennies to buy candy. Customers still come in to reminisce about learning the value of money from the Owner or spending time with some of our veterans at the bar.”
Once the nostalgia ends, however, reality intrudes: “The real estate could also be further developed and/or completely redeveloped for another use. The configuration of the property, excellent frontage, hard corner and easy access make it a prime redevelopment site.”
Brent Bungard, the commercial real estate agent representing Turner, declined to discuss the terms of the sale, which is expected to close in mid-May. He did, however, drop a big clue: The new owner did not buy the business. Just the real estate.
The closure means Eryn Dudley will be out of work in about a month. The Boise-born bartender spent Wednesday morning pouring cold ones and answering the phone. “It’s very sad,” she said into the receiver, over and over again. Along with, “sorry, guys.”
This is not the first time that New Boise has impinged on Dudley’s livelihood. She also poured drinks at Ben’s Crow Inn, another neighborhood watering hole, which shut its doors on Warm Springs Avenue in 2016 and will be replaced by a subdivision.
Her plans? “Look for a job. What else do you do?”