51 years and counting for Donegal Township bait supplier
There’s no time for slowing down now.
Not that that’s ever been an option, really. You don’t last more than half a century by sitting still.
Each week, Joe Stabile and his wife Toni hustle, delivering bait to stores around Western Pennsylvania, West Virginia and Ohio. The Donegal Township couple are owners of Tri-State Bait and supply more than 200 places with meal worms, nightcrawlers, butterworms and more.
It’s not a job for the faint of heart.
Ten- to 12-hour days, sometimes spent driving 300 miles or more, then coming home to pack more bait for the next day, are the norm.
“It’s more work than people think it is,” Joe Stabile said. “We have a six- or seven-month window to make our money. We sell bait all year, but we really have from March to September.
“Once kids go back to school, it’s like someone turned a valve. It just dies.”
Even then they’re busy, though.
All winter, they make dough ball baits for catfish and carp. That involves making hundreds of pounds of dough at a time, experimenting with water and corn and flour ratios to make sure it’s neither too dry nor too sticky, and adding assorted flavors.
Then, there’s servicing the refrigerators they supply to each store — they have to be defrosted twice a year — matching bar codes to bait containers, re-tooling the customer base as stores come and go.
They’ve been making it work, though. And for a long time.
Tri-State Bait is in its 51st year.
Toni’s cousins, Joe and Vince DiLiberto, started the business in Verona in 1966.
“We sold all kinds of sporting goods,” said Joe DiLiberto. “We were busy then, too.”
Joe and Toni Stabile bought them out 14 years ago.
Some things have changed since the business’ early days.
Once, family bait stores made up a larger part of the customer base. Now, Stabile said, it’s exclusively convenience stores.
That requires meeting some new demands.
“They’re open 24 hours. They’re selling bait all night. You can’t not get them what they need when they need it,” he said.
Other things remain the same.
Bait, for example, then as now, is much more of an international game then some might imagine.
Tri-State gets its mealworms from California. Butterworms come from Chile, nightcrawlers from Canada. Red worms are shipped in from Brussels. Maggots come from Iowa, wax worms from Ohio.
All usually arrive in large containers, then have to be re-packed into smaller individual ones.
It takes time and effort to get all that into the hands of anglers.
But that’s OK, Stabile said. He and his wife enjoy what they’re doing and plan to keep going for at least a few more years.
“I like talking to customers. I like going to the stores,” Joe Stabile said. “It’s a lot of fun. You make a lot of friends all around.”
Vince DeLiberto agreed.
“That’s what I miss the most, the people. You met a lot of good people,” he said.
As for the future?
Don’t be surprised if Tri-State adds a few wrinkles here or there. There’s a lot of business planning involved in moving worms, Stabile said, as markets and customers are always changing.
“My mind’s always going,” he said with a laugh. “My wife will look at me and say, ‘What are you thinking about?’ I just say, ‘You don’t want to know.’ ”