SOUTH VENICE — Many stores look alike, but one store in Venice is unique and the decorative interior ambiance has been the same for more than half a century.
As traditional sporting stores in the hunting districts of North America decrease, visitors to Venice can still enjoy reliving that hunting passion at Cooks Sportland Sporting Goods, 4419 S. Tamiami Trail at Woodmere Drive.
The business began in 1954 when Ray Cook opened the Monroe Sports Shop in a log cabin in Monroe, Mich.
In 1968, he opened the current Venice location, just 2,500-square feet.
With phenomenal growth within 12 months, it was enlarged to 7,000; still insufficient. In 1972, it was doubled to the existing 14,000 square feet.
The spacious store continues in the same location enthralling shoppers and visitors, fascinated with the many taxidermy restored deer hanging from the walls and wild animals strategically standing on shelving.
Included are a few items which taxidermist, Ray Cook, father of the current owner and president, Eric Cook, said his father did 60 plus years ago.
Ray Cook’s sons, Eric and Malcolm, work in the store daily. Malcolm Cook is the vice president.
“With the population growing in this area people come in almost daily saying they have not seen a sporting store like this in years,” Eric Cook said. “A lot of folks just walk around awestruck by the atmosphere of this past living history. Some moving into the area bring and donate mounts which are hung on the walls.”
History is combined with the latest sporting trends in displays of the widest range of fishing, hunting equipment and clothing. Contrasting with the new sporting equipment for shuffleboard and pickleball.
A more recent addition is archery with the complete range of bows, arrows and equipment. Additionally, there is a 7-lane indoor archery range, popular with enthusiasts.
Cook recalls a customer ordering a toboggan which they supplied, although few Southerners knew what it was.
Malcolm Cook has worked in the store since it opened and Eric joined him in 1974 when in high school. Their parents retired in 1989.
Recalling the opening in 1978, U.S. 41 was only two lanes with sand roads in South Venice, main roads were of gravel and there was no Interstate 75. Swamp buggies going down to the Everglades for hunting would all stop at the store, Malcolm Cook said. Some occasionally continue.
They have always sold firearms for hunting and today people travel from Central or North Florida.
At one time, Cooks had three stores. In 1976, it opened and operating a branch on West Venice Avenue for 20 years. The second store opened in Englewood Palm Plaza closing in the late 1980’s.
“Almost 99 percent of people coming to Florida will fish, freshwater or saltwater for the big bass, and the equipment is their biggest department,” Eric Cook said. “Western and sports clothing for fishing and casual, performance shirts for the whole gamut, and camouflage for hunting are stocked.”
Although the Cook’s Sportland is in South Venice, 6 miles south from downtown, the growth of North Port with West Villages brings more business.
Store hours are 9 a.m. to 5.30 p.m. Mondays to Saturdays, call 941-493-0025.