Family selling M&D’s Bait & Tackle in Wareham after 33 years

Jan 25, 2019

Inside the weathered bait shop on Main Street, just before the Narrows, the store’s manager Mike Thomas says he’s amazed. He’s just checked Facebook, and there’s a recent announcement with nearly 20,000 hits – far more than the usual posts about sales or where the fish are biting.

It begins: “It is with a heavy heart that we announce that we will be stepping away from M&D’s Bait & Tackle and the shop will be going up for sale.”

For 33 years, Mike, his wife Barbara and daughter Felicia have helped customers stock up on gear, watched generations of fishermen come and go and even fielded the occasional oddball question (“Do you sell freshwater tide charts?”).

Now, they’re seeking a buyer for this family-owned business, saying it’s time to strike a balance between work and life.

On a recent morning, the couple was in the shop placing final orders. The store’s last day is Jan. 26 from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Usually only open from April through October, Mike has welcomed customers the past couple weekends to say goodbye and let them use any outstanding gift cards.

“We’ve had people come from all over,” said Mike. “It’s been a bittersweet thing.”

The shop has always been a gathering place in addition to a business, said Barbara. Among the lures and pogies, they’ve watched customers grow up and return with children and even grandchildren of their own.

“We are grateful to all our regular customers in town and from afar and appreciate their support over the years,” she said. “Without them we never would have been here all these years. The community that has developed over the years is beyond anything we ever dreamed.”

The couple, married for 31 years, moved to Wareham from the north shore soon after graduating high school. Mike’s father had owned Cape Cod Charlies, a bait shop in Bourne, where he helped out on weekends. The Thomases started running M&D’s – named after the store’s original owners Mac and Dave – after moving to town.

Their daughter Felicia would help in the store from a young age. A Wareham High School and Bryant University graduate, she now works for the American Heart Association. Mike joked that the regulars made up Felicia’s “allegiance of uncles,” watching out for her and sparking an interest in the outdoors. The store has always been a family affair, Mike said. On occasion, longtime customers would man the shop in a pinch, but through three decades it’s mostly been a Thomas behind the register.

In that time, Barbara said they’ve done what they can for the community. The family donated the fishing rods available for loan at the Wareham Free Library in memory of a customer who passed away. Many years ago, following a tragedy that shook the town, the couple donated and distributed hundreds of gun trigger locks.

“I like to think we’ve been good stewards of the community,” she said. “We’ve done what we could.”

During some summers, they participated in a work program for students with disabilities. Mike said the students, under his and Barbara’s guidance, gained valuable work experience in the store.

“And a lot of them got jobs after they left,” said Mike. “My advice to them was: Don’t write ‘stocked shelves’ on your resume, write ‘inventory specialist.’’’

Both said the family is reluctant to sell; however, the long hours are taking a toll. When the shop is open Mike said the work week sometimes lasts 90 hours.

“And when you run a family-owned business, there’s no sick days,” he said.

Both noted business has been good. Over the past two years, profits have never been higher. They’ve received a lot of interest in the store since it went on the market. Some interested buyers wanted Mike to stay on as manager, which he said he won’t do. Though he will offer assistance to the new buyer during the transition.

In any event, the couple wants M&D’s to remain a place where fishermen and friends gather to swap stories and catch up. 

“Our hope is that it continues on as a bait shop,” said Mike.