Deren and the Angler’s Roost
In my last column, I briefly mentioned a now defunct
tackle shop known as the Angler’s Roost. From 1952 through 1958 it was
my good fortune to spend my lunch hour, or longer, in the magical confines
of Jim Deren’s establishment.
In the February issue of Field & Stream, John
Merwin, the initial editor of Fly Rod & Reel magazine, states
that, “in the mid 1950’s Abercrombie & Fitch, at Madison Avenue and
45th Street, was the center of the American sporting universe.” Perhaps
for those who were hunters, but as for fishermen, I must respectfully disagree
with Mr. Merwin. A & F was a great store. I dropped some nickels there
myself. However, for those who fished, the center of the universe was located
in the basement of the Chrysler Building at Lexington Avenue and 42nd Street.
Albeit that the management of the building insisted on referring to the
basement as the “lower arcade.”
The proprietor of this fishing tackle shop was a larger-than-life
character named Jim Deren. The Anglers Roost was such a successful shop
that its name was known from Canada to Florida and beyond to Chile and
Argentina. All types of fishermen, those who were famous and those who
were unknown, were drawn to the Roost as if sucked by the power of a black
hole. Titans of the business world, heroes from the fields of sport, angling
authors, newspaper journalists, famous musicians, all passed through the
door of Deren’s emporium.
All this, despite the fact that Jim ran the place in
a manner that broke every rule of successful retailing. Business hours
from nine to five? Not at the Angler’s Roost. Deren was rarely open for
business before 11:30 am. He closed the door any darn time he pleased.
Many a time I heard a customer complain that he had been there yesterday
only to find the shop closed. Jim would laugh and jovially tell the law,
“Well, I’m here now.” The customer would invariably smile and make his
purchase. It was hard to be angry with Jimmy Deren.
On two occasions when Jim and I were momentarily alone
in the shop, he had the opportunity to introduce me to a couple of well-known
customers. The first time, a tall, very solid looking, well-dressed gentleman
had come into the shop. He and Jim greeted each other with a string of
profanities and a series of rib-cracking bear hugs. When the cussing and
wrestling were finally over Jim introduced me to a Mr. Smith. It was not
until Mr. Smith had exited the door that I learned that I had just shaken
hands with the president of American Airlines.
Shortly thereafter, a slender fellow dressed in sport
clothes came into the Roost. He looked vaguely familiar to me but I did
not recognize him.
Jim made a big fuss over this guy, calling him Teddy.
I gathered from their conversation that he was one of Deren’s salmon fishing
buddies. With a big smile on his face, Jim turned to me and said, “Hey
kid, c’mon and shake hands with Ted Williams.” Unbelievable! As we shook
hands, Ted Williams said how pleased he was to meet me. I cannot begin
to remember what it was that I stammered in reply.
There was a small group in the shop known as the Cracker
Barrel Crew. These fellows were in the Roost nearly every weekday. Since
Deren usually had no other sales help, the members of the crew were allowed
to wait on customers when the shop became unusually busy. Jim had apparently
read Tom Sawyer. Over the years a great many fishermen hung out at the
Angler’s Roost. It was extremely rare for Deren to indicate that any of
them had become members of the Cracker Barrel Crew. There were three essentials
for anyone to become a recognized member of this tightly knit group.
First, it was imperative for Deren to take a liking to
you. Deren was friendly to everyone; however, he very rarely added new
members to the crew. Secondly, the crew clearly had to have no objection
to your presence in the shop. Third, if Jim began to call you by your first
name or tagged you with a nickname, you had made the cut. To the regret
of many, it did not happen often. Since I was far younger than any of the
crew members, I had resigned myself to simply playing the part of a fly
on the wall. I was happy just to listen to these fellows debate the finer
points of fly fishing. It was like taking a Ph.D course in fishing for
One day late in April, the shop was overrun by customers
and visitors. Several Cracker Barrel Crew members were already waiting
on people. Deren was at the rear of the shop showing a fellow an expensive
bamboo rod when another customer interrupted to ask about flies. Unexpectedly,
Deren turned to me and barked, “For Chrissakes kid, will you show this
guy what flies he needs for the Beaver Kill this weekend?” Though I could
not believe my ears, I quickly scurried behind the counter and proceeded
to sell the gentleman some Red Quills, Hendricksons and small Blue Quills.
The fellow paid cash. Now I was stuck. I had never worked a cash register.
Deren glanced over at me, holding the money in my hand
and growled, “Well are you going to put that in your pocket or in the cash
Luckily for me Ray Church was standing at the register.
He gave me a wink of congratulation and showed me the sequence of keys
to hit. From that day forward I was a member of the Cracker Barrel Crew.
I never did learn what I had done or did not do that earned me Jim Deren’s
stamp of approval. I could hardly wait to get home to tell Barb the great
news. My little lady was not all that impressed. Sic Transit Gloria.