Bruce Lee has noticed more than a few changes after more than 20 years spent selling sporting goods in Steamboat Springs.
Inside the walls of Straightline Outdoor Sports, he says customers will find the most important thing they need if they plan to hunt in Northwest Colorado.
"I think the biggest thing we offer is local information from guys who hunt," Bruce Lee said. "When hunters come into my store, they will be talking to somebody that hunts elk and knows this area."
In fact, Steamboat Springs and Craig have several businesses offering hunters a place to find those forgotten items, or to fill their hunting wish list. The list of stores includes family-owned businesses such as Straightline and larger outlets such as Wal-Mart and Cashway Distributors.
In Craig, Cashway Distributors owner Jim Simos says his store offers an experienced staff and a large selection. Cashway opened its door to hunters in 1962, and Simos bought the business in 1992. The 8,500-square-foot store carried more than $800,000 in inventory last year to meet hunters' needs.
"We understand hunting in Northwest Colorado," Simos said. "I've already got hunters calling me from around the country asking about the hunting conditions."
Although Internet retailers such as Cabela's have changed the way many hunters go about preparing for the season, these storeowners think their knowledge and experience gives the retailers in Northwest Colorado an edge.
"I have hunters that call me from Cabela's and ask if I have a particular item before they buy it," Simos said. "Normally I have it, and I have it at a better price."
Simos said there are always new items every hunting season, but the basic needs stay the same. Hunters are usually looking for the clothing they need to be comfortable in whatever season they're hunting and they want reliable equipment they can count on. But in Craig, the one thing that brings most hunters through the doors, Simos says, are hunting licenses.
"We've been No. 1 in hunting license sales for the last three years," Simos said. "That's key for our store. They come in to get a license and then we hope they will buy something else."
Bruce, and his brother, Brett Lee, continue to dedicate a significant part of their store to hunters and their needs but admit that the sale of skiing and camping equipment drives their business.
Bruce Lee says he doesn't have the space to compete with the Internet, catalogs or large stores such as Cabela's, but hunters can still find most of their needs inside his store, including a few things they will not find in those other places. Straightline has built a reputation among hunters in Northwest Colorado based on solid advice and quality equipment. The store sells licenses, maps, game calls and other basic hunting gear. It also sells camping and fishing gear.
The store also carries a wide range of gifts that many hunters might want to take home to family members when they are done hunting.
Bruce Lee says Straightline's involvement with hunting comes from a love of the sport that is a big part of his family and the family-run business.
Hunters also can fill their hunting needs in Steamboat Springs at Wal-Mart and the Sports Authority.