It can be difficult to find coastal natives who have lived, worked and owned a business in the same place for several generations – not impossible, but difficult. That’s part of what makes Chris Medlin, owner of East Coast Sports in Surf City on Topsail Island, so unusual.
He’s been there so long that he can’t remember the exact time he caught his first fish, but he guesses it was somewhere at Barnacle Bill’s old pier.
“I don’t remember my first fishing, but I’m sure it was next to my grandfather, Charlie, who owned and/or operated the docks where I was raised,” he said. recently told Coastal Review.
Medlin’s grandfather, Charlie Medlin, had moved to Topsail Island in 1948.
“He had saved up enough money to go to business school and moved to Topsail to open an icehouse.” In those days, that literally meant delivering blocks of ice to people’s homes for their non-electric coolers.
Over the years, the ice cream business evolved into a beach grocery store. But then a different need was seen.
“It was turned into a serious tackle shop in the 1980s by my dad, Doug, after grandpa retired.”
There was a need for this kind of store on Topsail Island, he said. “I tried to do like grandpa,” Medlin said. “He always said, ‘Find a need and fill it.'”
Since then, East Coast Sports has been a successful business, he said.
“Our current model is very successful. We continue to grow every year,” Medlin said.
The inventory is vast and varied and covers two floors of a large building on Roland Avenue. Medlin said the store’s online reviews reflect the friendly and helpful staff.
“We couldn’t do it without all of our employees to whom I feel indebted. We can only succeed if we can keep an optimistic team.
Medlin said the key is to treat its employees fairly and with respect. “My grandfather and my father taught me to value people and their time. If you owe them, you pay them.
And respect should be the rule for everything you do in life, he said.
“You should pay the same respect to everyone you meet – rich, poor, old or young. Everyone.”
But the company’s history has not been all sunshine and roses. Barnacle Bill’s old pier was destroyed by hurricanes in 1996.
“We lost Barnacle Bill’s because it was knocked down and torn up during Bertha and then again during Fran. We had already rebuilt the pier. I lost it twice in the same year.
It was an emotional time.
“First time I saw pop cry. East Coast Sports had less than 3 feet of mud.
But they persevered and rebuilt again.
“We needed to find something while we were rebuilding our lives. We did the roofing – shingles, tar, standing seam. We also did siding and remodeling.
The work allowed them to keep the lights on while they rebuilt the store, but the sideline was temporary.
“Once the East Coast got back up and running, we slowly let go of construction,” Medlin said.
He found it was not a good way for him to move forward with raising his family due to the dangers involved. It didn’t sit well with him in the long run either. “I didn’t like this job like I do to run the store.”
But then they had to start all over again after Hurricane Florence in 2018.
“We took some heavy damage from Florence and updated the store because we needed to fix it anyway – made it a more open concept,” he said.
As you would expect from someone running a small, cross-generational business, family is especially important to Medlin. And every year, he sponsors a fishing contest for kids and donates around 300 rods, reels and bait.
“It’s a lot of kids’ first fishing rod,” he said.
This past year was the 20th and attendance has grown every year.
Medlin said his whole family loves to fish. His 13-year-old daughter, Caiya, and 16-year-old son, Charlie, caught some big ones.
“Charlie once landed an amberjack that was probably 40 pounds and a shark about 100 pounds.”
Medlin’s wife, Chaundel, likes to go too, but it better be on the right day. “My wife likes to fish in perfect conditions,” he said slyly.
Medlins also like to travel and of course they fish while they are away.
“My son and I usually do a charter wherever we travel,” Medlin said, noting there’s nothing quite like getting out on the water in a new place to see what the local action is like. . But not all of their family trips include fishing. Chris and Charlie recently visited Peru where they did not fish but saw Machu Picchu, the Nazca Lines and the city of Lima.
“No fishing on this trip, but it was pretty amazing,” he said.
Topsail Island has changed a lot since Medlin was young, he said, but one thing that hasn’t changed is people’s desire to jump in the water when they arrive.
“The spirit of fishing is the same,” he said, adding that advancements in the fishing industry have made the hobby better for everyone. “The best innovation has to be the braided line and the graphite rods. Both revolutionized the fishing tackle industry and made most people capable of landing a big fish.
For many, walking into a tackle store and looking at all the gear can be overwhelming, but modern gear has made fishing more accessible.
“Equipment has absolutely improved in all areas. There are technical advancements every day in baits, gear, lures, reels and rods,” he said.