Ritch Stolpe has a way of putting things in perspective.
“I retired at the age of 25 and opened an archery shop for something to do,” he smiles.
This year he is celebrating 40 years in business. His shop, Briar and Bow Archery, 405 Pearl St., has been a staple for area archery enthusiasts since that time.
Boasting three indoor archery ranges, thousands of archers have practiced their skills here over the years. Testament to those skills align one wall of the 20-yard range. Here examples of splitting arrows, sometimes called telescoping or “shooting a Robin Hood,” are posted with the archer’s name and date.
But there is little question that this is a shop for archery hunters. A full-bodied black bear greets customers at the door. Mounted deer heads and horns adorn the walls.
An accomplished hunter himself, Stolpe has hunted throughout the western states as well as Canada and Alaska for deer, antelope, bear, moose, caribou and elk.
The shop also features part of Stolpe’s extensive arrowhead collection, a display of bows dating back to the 1930s and a skull collection that he began when he was a child.
One of the many unique things about the shop is that every new arrow Ritch sells is custom made.
“I buy all the components in bulk and if somebody calls me and wants more made or wants some for Christmas, I can go the the computer and call up the record and know exactly the components they need for those arrows to continue a matched set,” he says.
“I’ve always told people the arrow is more important than the bow,” he says.
He also repairs arrows and bows.
Over the years he has served in a variety of capacities in archery organizations. He has also received one of the highest awards given a bow hunter in Iowa. In 1999 he was presented a lifetime achievement award by the Iowa Bowhunters Association. It was only the second such award given at the time since the IBA’s inception in 1957.
So how did his love for archery begin?
“Originally my dad made me a bow of ash and it promptly broke so I spent $12 and bought a Shakespeare bow at the Coast to Coast store up in Morningside,” he said. "I hunted a lot of rabbits with that bow. Then one day I found a fish arrow on the bank of a pond and I didn’t know what it was.”
He soon found out and his love for hunting fish with the bow began.
“One day I saw an article in the Sioux City Journal that said the Soo Bowmen archery club was looking for new members,” he continues. “So I called a number and John Owens picked me up during a 9-inch blizzard and drove me down to Iowa Street where they had their indoor range. I marched up all those stairs and saw everybody standing there shooting 30-yard targets.
“I was 16,” he adds.
The Soo Bowmen ceased to exist in about 1977, about a year after he started Briar and Bow.
A graduate of Morningside College, Stolpe attended four years of officer training in the Army just before President Nixon signed the peace treaty with North Vietnam.
"I came back and started Janitors Incorporated with Richard Grefe,” he says. “We built it up to 27 employees and then sold it in 1976 and started Briar and Bow. Richard had the pipe and tobacco part of the shop and I did the archery. When I met my wife Judy, Richard offered to sell his share of the shop so I picked it up. I still keep a small supply of pipe and tobacco products on hand.”
Soo Bowmen was primarily a target archery club. Stolpe wanted a club that catered to hunters.
“I wanted a real neat name so I started going through the whole dictionary and I found this word ‘trihedron,’ which is the intersection of three points, which in this case was Nebraska, South Dakota and Iowa,” he says. “So I just put a y in there instead of an i.”
Tryhedron Bowhunters became an organization that grew to 250 members under his leadership. He also started a newspaper, Tryhedron Bowhunters Association news, which he published monthly for 10 years.
“After 10 years, I said, ‘that’s enough’ so I started Midwest Bowhunter newspaper,” he says.
At one time the publication had subscribers in all 50 states as well as Canada and other countries.
“I did Midwest Bowhunter for 14 years,” he notes.
The building that contains his shop was built probably in 1854 and was originally a bank.
Several years ago Stolpe and his wife bought a home in Plymouth County and as he was remodeling it, he found a newspaper with a full-page article on 405 Pearl St., featuring an old photo of the building.
“The building was Weare and Allison Savings and Loan and the vault is still in the basement,” he says. “I found this article in the wall of my home up in Plymouth County.
“It was Johnson Hardware when you and I were kids,” he says.
Even after 40 years in business, Stolpe has no plans to retire.
“I love this business,” he says. “I want to stay right here.”