OAKLEY -- A longtime Oakley sporting goods store was jumping like a largemouth bass on a hook this week as customers cruised the aisles looking for one last bargain.
A fixture in the city for the past 28 years, Hook, Line & Sinker began selling off inventory Thursday as its owners prepare to call it quits.
"We're not getting any younger," said Gene Buchholz, 61, who bought the business with his wife, Michelle, in 1993 when it was located at Big Break Marina. They moved to Oakley Plaza in the city's downtown in 2001 and three years later opened a second store on Bethel Island. That one shut down in early October after firefighters cut out most of the flooring to battle a fire underneath.
One reason for closing is that they want to spend more time with relatives in Kansas and New Jersey who aren't in the best of health, Buchholz said.
But by far the biggest factor in their decision was the testy relationship they've had with City Hall, he said.
He's owned businesses in three other cities, and Oakley has done less than any of them to support local merchants, Buchholz said.
He cited the absence of signs on State Route 4 directing traffic downtown, something that Buchholz has asked the city to provide. He blames the absence of signs for the significant drop in traffic along Main Street.
Three months after the city passed a resolution in September 2012 indicating that it wanted a directional sign on the highway, however, Caltrans installed one just east of the Hillcrest Avenue exit.
The Buchholzes also fault the city for the prolonged construction in and around the plaza, a large-scale revitalization project they say cost them customers who either were unaware the store was still open for business or didn't want to navigate all the road work to get there.
Mayor Kevin Romick acknowledges that the construction went on too long and that the city probably could have better handled parts of it. But he said that short of inspecting Hook, Line & Sinker's books there's no way to verify whether the business lost money during that period.
He also voiced frustration with the gripes, saying that Buchholz never stipulated exactly how he wanted the city to support his business.
"I don't know what he expected of us. We have supported him every time," Romick said, noting that the city contributed to Buchholz's fundraising efforts to bring bass fishing tournaments to Oakley and had employees at the events distributing fliers with dining and lodging information for visitors.
Nonetheless, the Buchholzes ultimately sued the city, a claim that they say they will continue to pursue.
With the anger there's also regret: Buchholz had planned on running the business until he retired and says he's sad that circumstances have brought it to an end prematurely.
He feels he's letting down other local organizations that he's supported over the years, Buchholz added, noting that he helped found the city's annual kids' fishing derby.
He and his wife have yet to work out their next step after the liquidation sale ends Dec. 14. Other than a trip to Florida to celebrate a relative's 100th birthday, they have no plans, Buchholz said.
"It's going to be whatever the good Lord hands me," he said.
Contact Rowena Coetsee at 925-779-7141. Follow her at Twitter.com/RowenaCoetsee.