The Nagels' phone rang.
"Are you going to be open?" a customer inquired. "And what time?"
"When do you want me to be?" replied Andy Nagel, ready to assist at a moment's notice.
The owner of his family's namesake business aimed to please.
Just as there are always fish in the lakes, there was always work to do at Nagel's Live Bait.
Casting the Line
Andy's parents Oris and Evelyn Nagel founded the bait shop business out of a small shed located on Seventh Street on Faribault's west side.
Cement minnow tanks were built into the ground on the left side of the shed with a stainless steel bench to clean fish in the back. The understated white exterior looked like it may simply house garden tools or some spare firewood, but it was go-to spot for fishermen, local and beyond.
Its location between Roberds Lake and the Cannon River was tough to beat. Customers could walk over as if visiting a neighbor.
Others made the commute from around the Midwest, taking advantage of Minnesota's limitless lakes.
"People would come all the way from Iowa and fish bullheads," reminisced Andy's daughter, Penny Malecha-Nagel. "Then they would come with pails of them. They’d wait out here, they’d get an ice cream treat or a pop. They’d sit outside, Grandma would clean the fish and Dad would maybe help her if needed. They’d wait for them, they’d bag them off, pack them in ice and off they’d go."
Penny was one of the spokes on the wheel of the business kept entirely in the family. She could be seen as a human cash register, equipped with a wad of cash in her pocket facilitating purchases and assisting wherever needed.
Friendly, personable service defined the business. Its clientele grew and Nagel's Live Bait began to inch ahead with its offerings.
"We began to hang a small peg board here," Andy's wife, Elaine, said, motioning to the front right corner of the shed. "It had a few hooks, leaders, sinkers and bobbers. That was it."
That was it for a time.
The business was beginning to outgrow its cramped dimensions.
In 1982, Andy bought the business from his parents. With the help of some friends, he built a larger shop just next door to the shed.
It was fitting that Andy took on the construction project himself. He had an indefatigable work ethic that allowed him to juggle not only the responsibilities at Nagel's Live Bait, but also Andy Nagel Sodding, a business he owned and operated for 50 years.
He did the painstaking work day in and day out to keep his pursuits going until the day he died. Most was done behind the scenes.
"My dad seined his own minnows and spent many rainy nights picking night crawlers along with my mom. He also had a worm hill in the back and would box up fresh worms almost daily," Penny said. "He would drive all over to creeks and ponds. He’d put on miles and miles. The creeks, that’s where he’d get the suckers and the shiners and some of your chubs and your bigger minnows for northerns, muskies or ice fishing they’ll do spearing and want a decoy."
The new location provided room for new minnow tanks, a larger selection of bait and whatever else you'd need for a day on the water.
Penny candy was a big hit for neighborhood kids and sweet-toothed fisherman alike. A rack of chips cycled through bags daily and cold drinks were always on hand.
Need a pack of smokes? How about a new license?
Nagel's had it.
The business' capabilities extended beyond the realm of a traditional bait shop.
Customers were like family. Sometimes family members have some odd requests.
"Someone came in with a new car, or a car that was new to him." Elaine began. "He said 'Oh my gosh, I was supposed to put diesel in it and I put regular gas in it!'"
For a brief moment, Nagel's Live Bait became Nagel's Body Shop.
"He helped him drain it," Penny said, also pointing out the flat tires Nagel helped change over the years.
Nagel's Lounge could have been another alternative storefront sign to post.
If not on the boat, Nagel's clientele liked to drop anchor inside the shop to play cards or shoot the breeze. Andy loved to regale with stories.
"We’d come in sometimes, I’d stop down, and Dad would be working and there’d be three, four guys BS’ing," Penny said. "Not buying bait, just talking. It was a social club."
The familial atmosphere was embodied by gestures of kindness from regulars.
Ironically, bait shop owners don't have much time to fish himself, but the Nagels didn't go long without receiving a fresh catch.
"People would bring a Dairy Queen for 'ya, they'd bring in morel mushrooms or would say 'We caught some extra fish, here's a fish for 'ya.' 'We just went hunting, do you like deer jerky?'"
You bet they did.
The goodwill flowed both ways.
Nagel's had a reputation as an old-school business. No internet, no credit card readers, no WiFi passwords to remember.
When the DNR told Nagel's it needed to have an internet connection to continue to sell fishing licenses, they figuratively said "Thanks, but no thanks."
Most to step foot in Nagel's were repeat customers. They knew cash was king to buy some bait.
Others received a gentle indoctrination.
"We didn’t take debit or credit, but people got to where that’s all they carried," Elaine said. "They’d get their bait and they’d go up and we'd say ‘I’m sorry, we don’t take them.' 'Oh, I’ll have to take the bait back.’ And (Andy) would say ‘Oh, go fishing.’ And he’d just give it to them. Then he said ‘It isn’t going to break me,’ Then you know those people? They’ll stop back. Next time they go fishing they say, ‘Here’s money for the bait, now I’m going to buy this.’"
Reeling it in
Nagel's hours were never set in stone, but you could count on the doors to be open and the lights to be on when the spring and winter season was in full swing.
Andy was there seven days a week, 365 days a year. That's not a clichéd exaggeration.
"He was always open. If it was Christmas, he’d come down and work a while," Penny said. "Thanksgiving, he’d be down here and he’d come back just in time to eat and then we’d eat and come back down."
His wife Elaine could only forgive Andy for being a little busy on Mother's Day weekend, which annually coincides with the Minnesota fishing opener.
That weekend was the Nagel's Super Bowl.
"Back in the day, the fishing opener was a big deal," Penny said. "We’d be open all night."
Continued Elaine: "One year he said he was here without even stepping outside of the door. He came really early Friday morning, stayed open Friday night, worked all day Saturday and it was probably until 10 at night until he closed."
Unless there was a funeral or an immediate family emergency, work went on.
Andy's capacities were limited when he approached his 80s. He was diagnosed with cancer and vertigo, and was later resigned to a padded, armed chair in the back where he could oversee the shop.
He was hospitalized at Abbot Northwestern Hospital in Minneapolis before he died on Dec. 22, 2018. In addition to Penny, he is survived by children JoAnn, Vanessa and Michelle.
Some loyal customers who didn't immediately hear the news about his passing suspected something was amiss by his absence at the shop.
"People were like ‘Something’s going on. Andy doesn’t close. Something’s going on,'" Penny said. "That tells you how dedicated he was. People knew."
The Nagels have opted to close the shop for good.
Wholesalers bought back some of the remaining merchandise. Hooks, lines and other merchandise still lines the walls and candy partially fills the glass display case.
Penny contemplated a "garage sale of sorts" to unload more remaining goods and offer customers a chance to bid farewell to their beloved bait shop.
Penny and Elaine admitted it's been a long winter. There were conflicting emotions when the first fishing opener without Andy came May 12.
They plan to sell the property down the road. When they're there to clean and manage remaining merchandise, former customers often see their cars and stop in to offer their condolences.
Outpourings of support offer closure to an end of an era.
"Someone came in and said ‘I just need to step in here one more time,'" Elaine said. "What I miss more than the actual business, all those people that normally stopped in."