Jeff Shaw Jr. holds one of the crossbows that are a hot item this year as his father and co-owner, Jeff Shaw Sr., stocks fishing poles in the main showroom at Blackwater Sports Center on Delsea Drive in Vineland.

Press photo by Dave Griffin

VINELAND — Staying on top of trends is a vital part of business at Blackwater Sports Center, a fishing and hunting shop that gets its name from the nearby Blackwater Creek, a tributary of the Maurice River.

“The economy, the weather, what people want — things change in the archery and fishing industry every six months, and if you don’t evolve with the trends and the industry, you’ll get left behind in a heartbeat,” said Jeffrey Shaw Jr., who co-owns the business with his father, Jeffrey Shaw Sr.

“Like with the car industry, all the bow companies are releasing their 2013 bows right now. So we have to stay on top of the bow lines,” he said.

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This small hunting and tackle store on North Delsea Drive has deep roots in the area, starting nearly 60 years ago when it was a bait-and-tackle shop.

Shaw Sr., a former office manager for a construction company, bought the business in 1992.

To set the store apart from chain retailers, it carries niche items such as hard-to-find freshwater fishing baits used by tournament fishers, he said. Blackwater Sports has been building up archery in the past decade, carrying major lines of bows and crossbows.

The business carries some functional clothing items, including several popular boot brands.

“We don’t have enough floor space to do clothing justice, so we made a choice not to compete with the marts on stuff like that,” he said.

And then there’s the “meat-and-potatoes,” as Shaw calls it. “Live bait.”

“My best customers are the guys who come in here everyday and spend 5 and 6 bucks on some night crawlers and a bag of hooks. They buy al little bit of tackle and live bait and go fishing everyday,” he said.

The business has gone through a few lean years brought about by the economy, particularly in Cumberland County, which has the highest unemployment rate in the state.

“The last few years have been tough because of the economy, because it is a blue-collar town. So it has been a little tough because of that. … You weather it out. You trim your expenses and make some adjustments and you stock what people want,” he said.

The sporting-goods industry in general has felt the impacts from the recession and the economic downturn.

In 2010, there were 21,418 sporting-goods establishments in the U.S., nearly 10 percent fewer than in 2007, according to the U.S. Census Bureau’s County Business Patterns.

Shaw cited one major benefit to the business, even in a sour economy.

“Guys will always have a little bit of money for their hobbies, that’s why we’ve been fortunate,” he said.

The business also benefited a bit from a change in New Jersey law several years ago that allowed hunters to use crossbows, which previously had been allowed only by permit for those with physical limitations and handicaps.

Shaw Sr. said the business will continue to stress what has worked for it — emphasizing customer service in a small-store setting while offering unique products and niches to help it compete with larger box retailers.

“We want to keep that small-type atmosphere,” he said. “That’s what kept us going.”

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