Famed for the 24-foot neon sign marking its unlikely presence in the most urban of American cities, Capitol Fishing Tackle has relocated to the suburbs. The 125-year-old shop moved from Manhattan to Freeport, N.Y., just east of the city on Long Island’s south shore.
The big sign now shines on Guy Lombardo Avenue, footsteps from waters that hold stripers, bluefish, fluke, false albacore, tautog, shark, and many more. No longer will Long Islanders who work in the city have to worry about bringing home their new one-piece surf rods on the subway and the commuter train.
“We decided to move the store to what we think of as the fishing capital of Long Island,” Owner Richie Collins said. “We really have the largest concentration of fishermen right in the Freeport area.” It helps that the new location is the site of a well-established shop, Sea Isle Tackle, that closed in 2021 after more than 50 years.
A Storied Past
Brooklyn-born but raised in Miami, Collins moved back to New York to work at Capitol Tackle in 1973, when it was two doors from the entrance to the Chelsea Hotel. Richie’s father was a rod maker, and Capitol Tackle was one of his customers.
Back then, there were 27 tackle shops in The Big Apple. Today, there are a tiny handful, and apparently none in Manhattan, apart from the Orvis and Urban Angler fly shops. Eventually, Richie put on his best suit “and was able to borrow enough money from five different banks to buy the store from Charlie Neeff,” whose family originally started the business in Cologne, Germany.
A colorful cast of characters visited the shop in the Chelsea days, including Andy Warhol (seeking monofilament to hang art), the model Fabio (and his mom), the author Harold Robbins, and Sid Vicious of the Sex Pistols (he bought a knife, but not that knife.)
In 2006, the store moved to its fifth and final New York City location on West 36th Street in the Garment District. So popular was it with international visitors that the Secret Service did security sweeps when the United National General Assembly met, about a mile away.
Celebrities such as Pele and world leaders including Soviet Premier Leonid Brezhnev came to shop for gear that wasn’t easy to get back home.
But foot traffic had begun to decline, and then came the pandemic—and the rise of online shopping. Manhattan foot traffic isn’t what it was, especially for a tackle shop. For one thing, some of the people who used to visit on their lunch hours in Manhattan now work from home, at least part of the time. Richie and his son, Eric, decided it was time to get closer to the beaches and boat basins of fishing-crazy Long Island.
At the new location, Capitol Tackle is open early to serve anglers heading out for the day. The Collinses also own nearby Hudson Point Marina, where you can get gas, ice, bait, and tackle right on your boat. There was no such option in the Garment District.
And like every local fishing store, Capitol intends to serve its customers in ways the big-box and online sectors cannot. “Our secret sauce is always having an extremely well-stocked store with very knowledgeable people behind the counter who don’t mind helping,” said Eric, who in his free time competes in some of the big East Coast fishing tournaments.
“Our goal is to become a Long Island destination like we were in the city,” Richie said. “I’m seeing grandchildren and, in some cases, a few great-grandchildren, of people who were customers in the store. If they fished, their fathers or grandfathers brought them to Capitol.”