BYRON TOWNSHIP, Mich. (WOOD) — Sporting goods store Al & Bob’s is closing after more than 50 years.
The store has been a community staple for decades. It first opened on South Division more than five decades ago, the current primary owner, Matthew Howell, said.
One of the original partners died before it ever opened its doors. The other partner eventually sold it to Peter Cook’s son, Tom Cook.
In 2018, Tom Cook sold the business to Howell, who moved Al & Bob’s in with Millbrook, a Byron Township equestrian supply store located at 510 68th St. near US-131 that his mother first opened in 1989.
Howell explained he saw a lot of overlap between the two businesses, and they had the space to take on the sporting goods store.
Since taking over Al & Bob’s, Howell, who been involved in multiple businesses over the years including investment and real estate, said he had a lot of fun talking to customers about hunting and fishing.
“I really enjoyed being here and talking to our customers and hearing about all their adventures and seeing their pictures. And my employees are pretty amazing, a lot of them are passionate fishermen,” Howell said, adding one employee has his own YouTube channel dedicated to fishing.
But he’s ready to have more time to spend with his nine grandkids and to have adventures of his own.
“I’ve gotten to the point where I would like to have more time to play and do this stuff instead of selling it,” he said.
Al & Bob’s has seen some challenges since moving to Cutlerville.
In 2022, two brothers, Joseph and Johon Woods, stole 53 guns from the sporting goods store. When the store’s alarm went off, one brother took off in the getaway car, while the other brother — left behind — stole a pickup truck.
Authorities at the time said he crashed into a nearby McDonald’s and then tried to steal another car, but was arrested.
Joseph and Johon Woods were each sentenced to serve seven years in prison and three years of supervised release.
Police recovered 21 of the firearms. Thirty-two were never recovered, likely sold on the black market.
“That was pretty significant,” Howell said. “And that’s a big worry. Every time the alarm company calls you in the middle of the night, you’re panicking, ‘What’s happened?'”
He said there are also new challenges that come with running an independent sporting goods store in the age of the internet.
“Let’s just say this, you don’t run an ad in the Grand Rapids Press anymore if you want to promote (it),” he said.
Howell explained he’s a “dinosaur” when it comes to things like digital marketing, and platforms like Facebook won’t allow you to advertise firearms.
“I have to ask myself, do I want to try to push a rock up a mountain? Or would I rather spend my time doing what I want to do while I still can do it?” Howell explained.
As an entrepreneur, he’s always looking for ways to improve things, and at this point the store requires more time than he’s able to give it.
“I look around and come to the conclusion that to make it what I want it to be, it would take more time and investment than I want to do,” Howell said. “It’s a tough decision. I hate walking away from anything, because I do think the right person could make something out of a business like that, even though I think it’s a fairly challenging environment. … If I were 40 years old, I’d feel differently.”
Millbrook will remain open, and staff will slowly start to consolidate Al & Bob’s inside the store. It will officially close sometime between the end of this year and the end of January, Howell said.
Customers who have heard of the closure have been disappointed.
“A lot of them are very sorry to see us go,” Howell said. “When the store was on Division, it was a staple down there.”