Most 22-year-olds are still, well, casting about, trying to figure out what to do with their futures. Then there’s Bennet Stich.
He tried college for a couple of years at North Dakota State in Fargo. Then he came up with another idea, came home to Battle Lake and bought out his grandfather, Ben — taking over Ben’s Bait Shop 180 miles northwest of the Twin Cities in Otter Tail County.
“This just fell into place, but it cost me a lot of money,” he said. “So let’s just say the bank owns me for a while before I get anything out of it.”
That’s why he’s living in a house on the property, right behind the 43-year-old bait shop, which he helped remodel two years ago with a fancy new entryway — at least as bait shops go.
The front door of the low-slung store is now festooned with a dozen windows and a gabled, rust-colored wooden facade.
“The old cement front was heaving from the cold and the door wouldn’t shut, so we had to do something, and the guys at Everts Lumber came up with this design and I said, ‘Let’s go for it.’ ”
It’s with that burst of enthusiasm that he greets customers, offering to be the “bag boy” who stashes your worms and lures — never letting out that he owns half the joint.
His father, Craig Stich, owns the other half of the operation, but spends the bulk of his time behind the scenes, running the shop’s 100 minnow ponds that sell bait wholesale down in the Cities. Bennet runs the front of the house, selling Minnetonka Moccasins to tourists, leeches to the area’s anglers and his charismatic smile to whomever strolls in.
His work ethic is reflected in the shop’s motto, which hangs over the new front door: “Our Baits Try Harder.”
The late spring didn’t help sales this year, but Bennet says holidays are the key, and Memorial Day and July 4th were jammed with customers.
This weekend, Battle Lake celebrates its annual Wenonga Days — named in honor of an Ojibwe chief who reportedly led 50 warriors into battle in 1795. Wenonga was among the few to survive and lives on in the form of a 23-foot fiberglass statue by the lake that settlers re-christened Battle Lake.
“We have a float in the parade every year,” Bennet said. “Well, it’s a truck hauling a fishing boat, but we throw lots of candy.”
The event’s co-director, Jen Knudson, said Bennet is quickly becoming a recognized leader in the town of 900 people.
“He’s definitely active around here, having grown up and come back to the business,” she said, from her small-engine repair shop. “He’s very personal, and we enjoy doing business with him.”
Bennet makes no bones about it: This isn’t a career layover until he finds something bigger and brighter. He can happily envision a future peddling leeches, minnows and night crawlers.
“I would think so, unless something goes wrong,” he says. “The only thing I love better than being this near to the lakes is being out on the water — wake boarding, fishing or whatever.”