For Tommy Bronson Sporting Goods, cooler temperatures in the air mean one thing – hunting season.
With its new location at 964 June Road in East Memphis, owner Cliff Hunter and his team are ready to accommodate discerning outdoorsmen.
Founded in 1926, Tommy Bronson has been the go-to store for hunting, fishing and outdoor needs for 87 years. It opened at 47 N. Waldran primarily as a supplier of tennis equipment before moving to 1672 Union Ave. in 1971.
Hunter began working at the sporting goods store in 1989 and bought into the business in 1993, becoming the partner of Tommy’s son, Stewart Bronson. When the store moved east to Poplar Plaza in 1998, it was due in part by a push from Bronson.
Howard Schuster and the team at Tommy Bronson Sporting Goods has been serving the Mid-South’s outdoors community for 87 years.
(Daily News/Andrew J. Breig)
“Our business was growing exponentially on Union,” Bronson said. “We defied retail law with three parking spaces and 1,500 square feet.”
In 2006, Hunter bought Bronson out, yet the two are still close friends with Hunter seeking business advice over the years.
“I’m not blood Bronson, but I might as well be,” Hunter said. “I still spend Christmas Eve with them and we’re very close.”
With Poplar Plaza came the promise of more parking and a true retail space, and served them well for 14 years. Hunter said the shopping center’s management company, Finard Properties, “were phenomenal landlords; it was tough to leave but it was time.”
When the business began, it was a neighborhood concern drawing on customers from nearby Central Gardens and the professional offices of Downtown.
But business and demographics in Memphis changed over the years and Tommy Bronson has morphed into more of a regional business with customers coming from Jackson, Dyersburg and Nashville, Tenn. A third of the store’s gun sales come from DeSoto County customers, so Hunter wanted to be closer to the interstate but still within the loop.
The new property was the longtime home of Arthur’s Wine & Liquor, which made the move to a nearby Poplar-facing storefront in 2004. Matt Prince, senior vice president of brokerage & development with Loeb Properties Inc. and a longtime customer and friend, felt the space was perfect for Hunter’s shop.
“I always thought that building would be excellent for a retail user,” Prince said. “Just the way it’s situated on that site, there’s a lot of natural light in that building. It doesn’t have Poplar frontage but it has great Poplar visibility and view.”
In a bit of poetic full circle, then-Memphis Mayor Henry Loeb helped Tommy Bronson physically move the store from Waldran to Union in 1971, and the new location is now owned and managed by Loeb Properties.
Hunter sees the new space – which Prince likens to “beach view versus beach front” – as a billboard. The retro sign can’t be missed by passing motorists on busy Poplar Avenue near Yates Road.
“That’s our true old vintage sign,” Hunter said. “I couldn’t have that sign at the Plaza because we were a shopping center. The heritage of this business is very important to me so it was neat to get our true old original logo from 1926 on the building.”
Hunter owes his success over the years to the longevity of the business and the loyalty of his customers.
“Our service is what drives that … our service and the quality of our product,” he said. “I don’t sell on price, I sell on product; that’s what we’re known for.”
It’s this service and attention to the quality of goods, and serving the serious sportsman, that Hunter said sets the store apart from big-box retailers. His formula, along with the new location, is paying off as seen last June when Hunter saw his best sales month ever.
At 8,500 square feet, almost twice the size of the Poplar Plaza locale, Hunter can now spread out to showcase inventory and better market larger items such as gun safes. A portion of the second floor has been fashioned into a sitting area with couches and coffee for shoppers to sit and swap fish stories.
Another advantage to the size was the opportunity to offer space to two complementary entities: John Burrell’s High Adventure Co., a world-wide hunting outfitter, and Mossy Oak Properties, a premier land company, both of which are now housed within.
The only thing that may be lacking on June Road is office space, Hunter’s being tucked away in what might have once been a broom closet. But, ultimately, it’s not a problem for this owner-operator.
“The floor is my office,” Hunter said. “I’m in tune with my customers, I’m in tune with my employees and I think that’s one reason why this dinosaur of a business is still existing.”