Robert “Bo” Brines, 61, owns Little Forks Outfitters located on Main Street in downtown Midland. Their core sport is fly fishing. They sell apparel, footwear, and some gear for adventure travel, hiking, and general outdoor activities. Brines has three employees. During the COVID-19 restrictions in March and April, he sold some products online, offered curbside service, and deliveries. During the current restrictions, they can operate at 30% of their normal capacity. Brines is a Midland native, graduate of Midland High. He attended the Berklee College of Music in Boston. He’s a drummer. He met his wife, Karen, in Alpena, where he was performing with a band. They’ve been married for 28 years. They have two daughters. Karen’s retired from the City of Midland. She works part-time for the Eastman Animal Hospital.
1. How long have you owned your business?
I opened the shop in 1995, it’s our 25th anniversary.
2. What inspired you to own this business?
During my summers in high school, I wrangled horses out in Colorado. On my travels, I’d go backpacking or trout fishing. I’d come across shops that were really cool. I was working in the family business, Bob Brines Office Supply. I discovered I wanted to be in the business world, do something entrepreneurial. I quit the band. Worked with my dad. Helped the business grow. It felt good to give back to my dad. Felt like I wanted to start another business, high service, smaller niche. The office supply business was changing. Staples had come to town. I wanted to try something more sustainable, fun. Downtown had emptied out. Penney’s and Sears went out to the mall. In the early 1990’s, Carl Gerstacker, former head of Dow, helped establish the DDA (Downtown Development Authority). His vision was to have specialty businesses downtown. He had identified an Orvis shop by name. Orvis is our main vendor (outdoor products). I got to know the Orvis regional business manager. He thought a store would do well in Midland. We also had Scientific Anglers in Midland, well known in the fly fishing world. They invited the modern fly line. One of my mentors there was Bruce Richards. I asked him about the viability of having a store here. He thought it was a good idea. Looking at the Tri-Cities, downtown Midland was the logical chose to located. I still had the office supply business so I needed a strong manager, so I talked to John Van Dalen who had worked at the Community Center and was into fly fishing. The first four years, we had two businesses going, two young daughters, and Karen was working full-time, too (Later sold the office supply business). I didn’t go to business school but I learned growing up in a family business. I never accepted the idea it wasn’t going to make it. You need that level of commitment. Twenty-five years later, it still gets me excited. We’ve enriched a lot of lives teaching people how to fly fish.
3. What makes Midland a great place to own a business?
Fly fishermen are a pretty small percentage of the population and a small percentage of the hunting/fishing population. Fly fishermen tend to be intellectually curious, have a higher education and income. Midland is made up of a large percentage of those types of individuals but we have customers who come from a pretty wide area, some on their way up north. I’m proud to represent a lot of great brands. People here respond well to that.
4. What are some ways your business is active in the community?
Serve on the DDA. Have seen a lot of changes. Midland is full of people who want a good community. One of my passions is cold water preservation. Real active with Trout Unlimited, Midland and Saginaw chapters. Also contribute a fair amount of financial resources to both chapters. Donate a nice rod and reel outfit each year. We’ve raised close to $100,000 over the years. I’m proud of that. Host a fly fishing film tour. Have a screening at Oscar’s. Have added a showing at the State Theater in Bay City . Films are awesome. Show them in February and March, get people fired up.
5. What are some of your interests and hobbies?
Oddly enough, fly fishing (laughs). Have taken people down to the Bahamas to bonefish. Love to travel. A lot has been wrapped around hiking and fishing in Montana, Colorado, Alaska, Christmas Island, Bahamas, and Belize. I love to get out and explore the world. We visited our daughter who went to school in Spain for a semester.
6. What are some local businesses you work with that help make your business a success?
Top of the list is Scientific Anglers. A lot of people aren’t aware that they are out there (in Midland). They are now owned by Orvis. I was honored to be named to the state’s Outdoor Recreation Advisory Council. Try to establish an office for outdoor recreation in Michigan. Brought them to Midland, took a tour of Scientific Anglers. Looked at how much outdoor recreation drives the economy. Here’s an industry leader right here in town. They’re phenomenal partners. I work a lot with Bolger & Battle. Help me with my website, marketing, and strategy. I’m on the board of the Michigan Retailers Association. Wanted to institute a shop local program. Bolger & Battle won the bid to do their Buy Nearby campaign.
7. Other thoughts?
I’m proud to be part of Midland. It has a long history of having good-hearted leaders. 2020 has been a difficult year, the pandemic, the flooding was catastrophic. As a community, Midland comes together.