By Gui Oliviera
It may be difficult for anyone to believe that the current owner, Stephanie Ernst Scott, of Gus’ Discount Tackle, has never been fishing a day in her life.
“I’m very established in the fishing community having never, ever, ever, ever been fishing, and it’s no secret. All my customers know that,” Scott said. But, ask her what the local catch is, and when does crabbing season start and end, and how you can obtain a fishing license, Scott will have the answers.
Scott is a first-generation American who grew up in the Richmond District. Her father – and the business’ namesake, Gus Ernst – was an Austrian Jew. In 1939, he fled from a train bound for a Nazi concentration camp by trekking his way on skis destined for Switzerland. He later emigrated to the United States, eventually ending up in San Francisco. Scott’s mother was from Russia. She worked as a hematologist and passed away in 1969 from lung cancer.
Ernst originally opened a shop in the Outer Richmond more than 60 years ago as a general store. It is one of the original shops on the Balboa Street corridor that is still operating to this day. Furthermore, it is a family-owned business which makes it a truly rare entity.
Gus sold a small stockpile of tackle in his general store. The need for fishing and crabbing gear grew due to customer demand. Ultimately, the shop would become Gus’ Discount Tackle.
“So, it evolved due to demand not to desire, and I love fishermen because they’re not working; they’re following the passion of their lives. They all love the sport and I love them,” Scott said.
The shop is much like any other neighborhood hub where people come in either to buy fishing gear, tell fishing stories or just chat with Stephanie about everyday life. Her customers come from all over the City and Bay Area. They are an eclectic group of multiracial people of all skill levels from seasoned commercial fishermen to current newbies. The collection of photos on the walls adds to the interior décor which is covered with friendly faces of families, friends and that days catch. Scott said she could tell a little story behind each of the pictures.
“We have survived because people have a great deal of loyalty to the store, which is very unusual,” Scott said. “Our number one thing is to make it affordable tackle. We never wanted to get very expensive stuff in here. This is where people who want to fish; they don’t have to spend a lot of money.
“They can afford it, can do it and enjoy it. That’s it. That’s our mantra sort of,” she said.
Scott has kept the shop open during the coronavirus pandemic by abiding by the to six-feet-apart and mandatory face mask rules. To the fishing community, Gus’ Discount Tackle is an essential business.
“It’s a tremendous hit for any business, but it makes me feel very good,” Scott said. “Anybody who comes in here says ‘thank you for being here. I have nothing else to do. I can’t do anything.’ You can’t go to a playground. Where are you supposed to take a kid to do anything? Fishing is still a viable thing, until they shut all that down.”
Keeping the shop open has also helped Scott cope with her late husband’s death. Bill Scott passed away in November 2019. The two had worked together in the shop for the last 10 years, were married for 45 years and had known each other for 50 years. They met at San Francisco State University where they both studied English as undergraduates.
“I’m very lost right now. The reason I’m here is it’s better than a psychiatrist. If I stayed at home I don’t know what would’ve happened. Fifty years we were together. (Working here) just saved me,” she said.
Matts Madsen, a local fisherman, has been going to Gus’ for about 20 years, since he was in high school.
“She always greets everyone with such enthusiasm,” Madsen said. “Right when you walk in, the first thing you notice is that there are tons of pictures on the walls of everyone she knows and the fish that they caught.”
“The main thing about Gus’ is that it’s fun. It’s fun for the customers and it’s fun for me,” Scott said.
Gus’ Discount Tackle is located at 3710 Balboa St., at 38th Avenue. For more information, visit www.gusdiscounttackle.com.