The year 2022 brought many memorable milestones to the fishing community. In Chicagoland, the most memorable thing might have been a loss. No, it wasn’t the passing of a famous fisherman or outdoorsman; it was the closing of a historic business. I am referring to the legendary Henry’s Bait and Tackle closing its doors for good.
In 1952, a jewelry shop opened on the near south side of Chicago. The owner, Henry Palmisano, Sr., decided to string a clothesline in the back of the shop where he could pin up some bobbers, hooks and carded baits as a sideline to his primary business of repairing watches.
The store became popular for many reasons.
Due to its proximity to downtown Chicago, it was the easiest place to shop for the thousands of people who commuted to the Loop for work every day. Henry’s also was the most conveniently located retailer for those who wished to fish the Chicago lakefront, where fishing has gotten better year after year. Fishing for yellow perch and smallmouth bass has gotten better every year, too, and Henry’s was a beneficiary of the fishing explosion.
The fact that Henry’s Bait and Tackle kept the longest operating hours of any tackle shop around drew anglers from all over the metropolitan area. They opened their doors at 6 a.m. every day of the week. They specialized in personalized customer service and carried the widest array of tackle in the marketplace.
The original Henry practiced a creed that he would always have every item available in his inventory. To prove that point, nightcrawlers are hard to obtain in the early spring because the ground in Canada, where crawlers are
harvested, is still frozen. To solve that problem, Henry’s used to bring
in tons of crawlers in the fall and feed them and keep them warm over
the winter before they were handpicked and packed in March.
In spring, they would be the only tackle store around that had a virtually unlimited supply of fat, fresh nightcrawlers.
When Henry Sr.’s sons –Henry, Jr., Steve, and Tom – took over the family
business, they followed their father’s tradition of quality and service.
They also decided to become actively involved in the future of fishing
in Chicago – and beyond.
The Palmisano brothers proved to be some of the best allies that
Chicago-area fishermen ever had. They were among the most dedicated
advocates to ever take a stance on behalf of the angling community. They
were uncompromising and relentless in their pursuit of fairness for the
angling public in many ways.
The Palmisano brothers were long-time members of Mayor Daley’s Fishing
Advisory Committee and were often involved with the Illinois DNR
regarding matters concerning the future of angling in Chicago.
Henry, Jr., left this world far too early in 2006 at the age of 54. Henry, Sr., passed away a year earlier at age 78.
One of the Palmisano family’s greatest accomplishments was helping to win
the fight that brought about the conversion of the urban airport, Meigs
Field, into Northerly Island, the new jewel of the Chicago Park District
and a top lakefront fishing spot.
Henry, Sr., and his family were relentless in their efforts. The shop
displayed a trophy of the political battle in the store. It was the
dreaded “No Fishing” sign that had hung at the entrance to the airport.
It was taken down from the gates of Northerly Island and hung proudly in
the office at Henry’s Bait and Tackle.
A quick trip to Henry’s was never quick at all. Once you walked in the
door, it was more than likely that you’d be drawn into a conversation
with one of the brothers or one of the store’s dedicated, long-time
employees, or another avid angler doing some shopping.
Henry’s Bait and Tackle was a lot like Sam Drucker’s general store on the Petticoat
Junction television show with a cast of regulars hanging around the cracker barrel jawing about the events of the day. The difference was that Henry’s regulars were jawing about
The store closed in early November and will be razed for the construction of a
private school. Brothers Steve, 65, and Tom, 69, will enjoy a long and
well-deserved retirement. Steve, the most avid angler in the family,
will be able to finally do as much fishing as he would like. Tom is an
expert diver who plans to travel and explore many of the bucket-list
waters he has dreamed about visiting. They both plan to spend plenty of
time enjoying their families.
The boys don’t seem to be suffering much remorse over the closing of
Henry’s Bait and Tackle. Tom said, “The hardest thing has been cleaning
up 78 years worth of stuff that we have collected over 78 years of
business in two, 24,000-square foot buildings.
“It was a lot of work. It was time for us to get out. We were able to get
out while we were still on top which is way better than being forced to
close because things had gone bad. We were successful right up to the
The memory of Henry’s will carry on in the hearts and minds of the Chicagoland fishing
community, partly due to the establishment of the Henry Palmisano Park
in the Bridgeport neighborhood, close to the store.
It’s a beautiful spot with an old stone quarry that was converted to a
well-stocked fishing pond. It is a site that is usually visited by many
young anglers. It’s a fine tribute to the Palmisano family.
While Illinois and Chicagoland has lost an institution, Henry’s Bait and
Tackle won’t be forgotten. But it will be missed, to be sure.