Tracking Ed Shirley Sports through its decades of change

Bob Shirley, from a teenager to being retired, remembers the decades of changes that went into making Ed Shirley Sports the force in suburban outdoor goods, particularly fishing.

SHARE Tracking Ed Shirley Sports through its decades of change
(L-R) Chad Korich, Jim Shirley, Bob Shirley and Brad Jackson last fall at The Anglers Outlet in Tinley Park just before it was sold. Provided photo

(L-R) Chad Korich, Jim Shirley, Bob Shirley and Brad Jackson last fall at The Anglers Outlet in Tinley Park just before it was sold.

Provided

When Ed Shirley Sports began in 1964, Bob Shirley remembered, “Our home number was the store number.”

That first shop was by a gas station and the VFW at Kedzie and 159th in Markham.

“I grew up there,” Shirley said. “I was 13 years old and we all worked.”

Yes, customers would sometimes call for someone to open up to sell a dozen or two of minnows after hours.

Ed Shirley continued to work as a Pflueger rep when the store opened. His wife, Jane, ran the postal substation in the building. That covered the rent.

“One of the manufacturers would supply you with 16 mm films about their products and we would run those in the store and it was quite well attended,” Shirley said. “It was one of the things we used to do to help promote business before Babe Winkelman and Al Lindner. In fact, a lot of [the films] had [the late] Bill Cullerton in them.”

Ed Shirley Sports started as a full-line sporting goods store with equipment for baseball and football, even tennis rackets.

A custom rod tube from Ed Shirley Sports. Provided by Ron Wozny

A custom rod tube from Ed Shirley Sports.

Provided by Ron Wozny

“And the gun business, but tackle was the main thing,” Shirley remembered. “Over the years, we got away from all the athletic stuff and we got out of the gun business around 1970.”

The gun business was good, except for regular hold-up attempts, including a successful one in December one year.

“Glen and I sat down with our father and said we didn’t want to be in the gun business any more,” Shirley said.

A business card for Ed Shirley Sports & Sons Sports Inc. Provided by Ron Wozny

A business card for Ed Shirley Sports & Sons Sports Inc.

Provided by Ron Wozny

Over the years, Ed Shirley Sports [later Ed Shirley and Sons Sports Inc.] expanded, first to Countryside, then Morton Grove in the former Dempster All Sports, then Palatine and finally Frankfort. In 2007, when older brother Glen retired, Bob Shirley bought the inventory and kept the Markham store as The Anglers Outlet. The Morton Grove store became Fish Tech; the Palatine store, Anglers International Resources.

Around 1968, the Markham store had moved 159th and St. Louis. Anglers Outlet moved to Oak Forest in 2015, then Tinley Park in 2019 until October, 2022, when it was sold and stayed The Anglers Outlet. The building at St Louis and 159th became a community church.

“The first employee stands out for me,” Shirley said. “[Joe Waddell] was a guy who lived in Markham, a construction worker hurt on the job and he needed work. He was a good guy, originally from Tennessee, just a good down to earth guy.”

Brad Jackson also stood out.

“Brad started there when he was 17,” Shirley said. “He would occasionally take other jobs, but he always seemed to come back. I hired him in 2007 to run [The Anglers Outlet].”

One reason Shirley, 72, sold last year, is that Jackson was retiring and moving to Texas.

“I think [that] was stint No. 5,” Jackson said. “I think I quit twice and was fired twice. I just liked to be around fishing tackle. It is still my hobby and fishing, and I never wanted to be a guide.

“The last 15 years, all the wonderful young people coming through there helped keep me young. So many of them are coming out of the high school bass fishing programs. That was always good. They kept me abreast of the latest in bass fishing.”

The most noted former high school angler at The Anglers Outlet is Sandburg’s Josh Sokol.

One of Andrew Richert’s work shirt when he worked for Ed Shirley Sport, 1998 to 2001. Provided by Andrew Richert

One of Andrew Richert’s work shirt when he worked for Ed Shirley Sport, 1998 to 2001.

Provided by Andrew Richert

Shirley, his wife Mary and some employees also worked putting on an outdoor show.

“The original was in Harvey behind the Holiday Inn, a huge success,” Shirley said. “The first one stands out. I was amazed how many came through that first year. We promoted it well and had a lot of top flight speakers. One of the secrets was top speakers. In fact, I was worried the fire department would shut us down [for overcrowding].”

The show moved to Chicago Heights to the old McDade building on Joe Orr Road. Then the Oak Lawn Community Pavilion for a couple years before moving to Arlington International Racecourse. After a few years, the people running the one-time “O’Hare Show” bought them out.

“I miss the business, I did it for 60 years,” Shirley said. “It truly does get in your blood. It is truly an avocation. If you don’t enjoy it, don’t get in the business.”

The old home of Ed Shirley Sports (The Anglers Outlet) on the southwest corner of St. Louis and 159th in Markham is now a church. Credit: Dale Bowman

The old home of Ed Shirley Sports (The Anglers Outlet) on the southwest corner of St. Louis and 159th in Markham is now a church.

Dale Bowman

The Latest
Cubs starter Jameson Taillon was charged with one run through 7 ⅓ innings
The boy was inside a car about 5:30 p.m. in the 8300 block of South Cottage Grove Avenue when someone approached him and fired shots, police said.
Lisa Kudrow leads the bumbling marauders in Apple’s funny follow-up to 1981 film.
Two men, a 46-year-old man from Washington state and a 55-year-old man from Franklin Park, were hospitalized in serious condition following a fire about 3 p.m. Tuesday. Their boat burned.