TRAVERSE CITY — The first Monday in October was naturally busy at Tir à l’arc Gauthier.
Behind the counter, Greg McDonald was working on a compound bow. Beside him, Jim Gauthier was repairing a crossbow. One side of the counter had the new owner of the archery shop, the other had the old one.
It was business as usual.
Even though the transfer of ownership took place in late July, the start of Michigan’s archery season on October 1 felt like a more formal transition in the business that humbly began in the basement of a building in downtown Traverse City in 1980 and turned into “the oldest archery-only pro shop in the state,” according to Gauthier.
“It was a great career,” Gauthier, 66, said of the business he started on July 22, 1980 in the basement of what is now the Amical and sold to McDonald’s on July 29. 2021. “Not bad for a guy graduating second from the bottom of his class (from Traverse City St. Francis).
“It’s three-quarters of my life roughly.”
“Every customer that comes in has a story about Jim,” said McDonald, standing outside Gauthier’s Archery home since 1990, less than a mile south of Chum’s Corner at 1788 M-37. “It’s a credit to him to be able to operate this long and keep customers coming back year after year.”
These customers will continue to find anything related to foil arrows and wire pom pom. And Gauthier loyalists won’t have to wonder what the new store will be called.
“The name is going to stick,” McDonald said. “Not much will change. There will be some small adjustments, following the new technology.
“But it will remain completely archery; we’re not going to start carrying weapons or anything. We’re going to stick with one thing and be really good at what we do.
There will always be compound bows from Mathews and Hoyt Archery for sale at Gauthier. Crossbows from TenPoint, Raven, and Mission will still be available for purchase. A wide selection of arrows like Easton and Victory.
“Having the best brand names helps,” McDonald said. “It’s top of the line across the board in the store.”
Gauthier nearly sold the 3,500-square-foot, 2½-acre business in 2019, but the deal fell through when COVID hit.
Several other possible deals also didn’t work out, something Gauthier is grateful for in hindsight.
“We’ve been working there since the beginning of the year basically, the end of last year,” said Gauthier, who added that McDonald’s passion for the place sets it apart. “I had several offers there, but he seemed like the best choice.”
McDonald said he visited Gauthier’s Archery as a customer last October and was impressed with the prompt service he received. He then visited his brother who told him that Gauthier was back on the market.
That was all McDonald, who had been hunting since his early teens, needed to hear. It did not take long for the man who joined the National Guard in the aftermath of September 11 and served 6 years in the army, including Iraq, to react.
“Immediately it clicked in my head to be an outdoorsman and active in archery all my life,” McDonald recalled. “I always wanted to do something in the field of hunting. I said to my wife, “If we can make this work, this is my dream job. Talking about hunting and getting people ready for hunting season doesn’t get any better than that.
McDonald’s — which has owned Verano Tan since 2017 and Bliss Tanning Studio since the summer of 2020, both on Eighth Street — quickly became an archery store owner.
“I came here as a customer,” McDonald said. “I didn’t know the clientele and the size of a small business. It’s been a good two months for us. I couldn’t ask for anything more.
Gauthier says the same about his time owning the business, able to turn his love of the outdoors into a lifelong career. But it also came with some big bumps along the way.
Gauthier’s first taste as a business owner came at Field and Stream on State Street in Traverse City. It lasted three years.
“I was bankrupt at (age) 25,” he said. “It was the best upbringing I ever had. I did the complete opposite of what I did and here I am today.
The biggest lesson, Gauthier said, was to be the only person in charge.
“I had three partnerships and they all failed,” joked Gauthier. “One was a wedding, the other was a cabin, and the other was a business.”
The other lesson Gauthier learned when he opened his own archery shop in 1980 was to give the customer the best service. Gauthier said he always tries to accommodate a customer on the first three feet inside the store, even if he is busy helping someone else.
Gauthier said he kept a book where he recorded the name, date and type of bow sold. This proved invaluable if a part was lost or broken, but also for forging “fantastic relationships”.
Gauthier estimates that he sold “more than 20,000 bows and crossbows” during his 41 years of activity. But he also found that more and more customers were asking to speak to his “technician” at work, Eli Purvis.
The previous owner said the technology keeps changing so quickly, “if you haven’t been there for 5 years, you’ve been there for 15”.
“It was about time,” Gauthier said. “I started to get to the point where the technology was beyond me.”
Gauthier said the archery shop has a few seasons. He said there were 100 people participating in shooting leagues, which he likens to bowling, from January to April. Activity really picks up as the start of Michigan’s archery season nears on October 1.
“I turn over inventory 4-5 times a year, 2-3 times in September and October,” he said.
Not owning the store has allowed Jim Gauthier to seize different opportunities in 2021.
He already has a boar hunt in Tennessee scheduled for later this month with his daughter, Lauren Gauthier. Then there’s a stay in Florida this winter with his wife, Terri, that will last a month or more.
“I can’t complain,” he said. “It’s been a great life. Now I have time to do things that I didn’t have before. I can go hunting. I can hike and bike and spend time with my wife.
“I went small game hunting for the first time in probably 30 years on opening day (September 15). I missed it, just getting out and walking in the woods.
Gauthier said he also misses loyal customers. Which is why the previous owner said he was just a phone call away and ready to jump behind the counter.
“I’m a little bored at this point,” Gauthier said with a laugh, while admitting that McDonald’s “is the guy who can take it to the next level.”
“I miss it. I miss visiting with clients. It’s always great fun working with people.
McDonald said he appreciated being on the phone, saying that if he called Gauthier as he prepared to leave on Monday afternoon, his company’s namesake would quickly turn around, even though he was already in late for an appointment.
“He’s got my back 100%,” McDonald said. “If I need anything, I just have to call her. This support is not something you see a lot these days.