Slate Run general store, tackle shop changes hands
Tom and Deb Finkbiner owned and operated Wolfe’s General Store and Slate Run Tackle Shop for 45 years, expanding it from a small one-room enterprise to a top-of-the-line fly-fishing shop, deli, grocery and gift shop.
Now, they’ve handed the business off to another couple who shares the same vision for continuing to make it successful.
“I’m a firm believer in that things happen for a reason,” Deb Finkbiner said.
She’s sure that new owners Tom and Kim Kozlowski are the right fit for the business.
Kim and her husband are anglers, campers and hikers, who grew up in the area and love everything about the Pine Creek Valley.
They also know a little bit about business as owners and operators of a number of Subway stores.
Tom and Deb tried to sell the store for years without success.
“We had a fairly high price on it,” Tom said. “We figured someone would buy it.”
Still, the business remained in the couple’s hands.
By the time the Kozlowskis came forward, with their business knowledge, love of the outdoors and the right buying price, Tom and Deb knew it was time to sell.
In March, the business transaction became complete.
Finkbiner, a man with an ever-present smile and easygoing manner, said he has no regrets about giving up the business after many years.
Yes. It was hard work and long hours, but in many ways he feels they are not leaving without being justly rewarded.
“It has allowed us to meet the world in Slate Run,” he said. “It’s not a super-money-making business and it’s labor intensive, but it satisfied our needs and the needs of tens of thousands of other people.”
Finkbiner said a mission of the store was to help make the holidays or vacations of people just a little more enjoyable.
Fishermen from all over the U.S. flock to the Pine Creek Valley, especially in the spring, to fish. Pine Creek, which runs behind the store, along with its tributaries, Slate Run and Cedar Run, are each top-notch trout streams.
A bicycle trail runs the length of Pine Creek and through Slate Run.
In essence, the Pine Creek Valley is a paradise for outdoors lovers.
“There is something special about Pine Creek,” Deb said.
When the Finkbiners bought the store, Tom’s vision was to open a fly-fishing shop.
He had given up a good job near Philadelphia to move to a rural outback to pursue his dream.
“We weren’t smart enough to know it couldn’t be done, but we pulled it off,” he said with a grin.
The first six years, he said, were the hardest.
But as he and Deb worked hard and learned more about running a store, they managed to build it.
Over time, it became a must-stop for hikers, campers, anglers, and cyclists, and vacationers venturing to the Slate Run area.
Tom said what he and Deb were doing was continuing the dream of Bill and Ann Wolfe, the previous store owners.
“We didn’t want to change much,” Deb said. “We had a post office, some groceries, some fishing flies. It was a one-room general store.”
Tom and Deb lived in the upstairs of the business for the first 23 years they owned it.
Like many business owners, they put heart and soul into their enterprise.
Each September, for a number of years, they would escape to Montana where they spent the month fishing and vacationing. They grew to love the Big Sky country, and even purchased land there with thoughts of moving west.
But Tom said they came to realize that everything they loved, including the great outdoors, was right there in the Pine Creek Valley.
And so, they stayed.
“Our goal was always to sell an above-average product, and we wanted to do it with a personal touch,” he said. “We worked hard every day. We didn’t have children. The store was our baby.”
These days, with the sale of the store complete, the Finkbiners are sticking around and working at their former business some days to help the new owners get off to a good start.
“Tom and Deb built this business up to what it is today,” Tom Kozlowksi said. “We will make improvements but nothing drastic.”
Among the potential changes are building a deck onto the store and renting out upstairs rooms to visitors.
Kim, who has worked as a traveling nurse, feels that Slate Run is the best place for them to have a business, even if it wasn’t the first site they thought of for owning such an enterprise.
“We looked out West,” she said. “We love the national parks.”
But when they saw the business in the tiny village of Slate Run for sale, they knew it was for them.
“A lot of people wanted it,” Deb said. “It’s a good living.”
Tom Finkbiner said what makes the business fun is the people who stop in.
“I don’t know if I could run a business like this in a big city,” he said.
It’s a place for picking up a sandwich or cold drink, for buying fishing flies or simply for finding out how the fish are biting.
Kim who spent many days as a young girl at her grandparents’ home in the nearby village of Cammal where she loved to fish understands the lure of the Pine Creek Valley.
She noted the “beautiful drive” from her home in Haneyville to reach the store for work each day.
“We are both avid outdoors lovers,” her husband said. “We were happy we were able to buy it (business).”
Tom Finkbiner said perhaps his proudest legacy is starting up the Brown Trout Club, which raises money to stock the Delayed Harvest Area of Pine Creek with large trout near the store.
“I wanted to build a world class fishing experience in a public water with no fee,” he said.
Finkbiner remembers all the people, some of them renowned fly fishermen, who have stopped into the business over the years.
He recalls all the others who have pitched in to help him out at different times.
He remains forever grateful to the late Bob McCullough, who had the vision, push and know-how to spearhead the cleanup of Babb Creek, a tributary of Pine Creek, polluted by acid mine drainage.
The successful cleanup of Babb Creek revived a once healthy mayfly population to Pine Creek, restoring the stream to a quality trout fishery.