He came to the Augusta area when he was in his 20s, while trekking down from New York to Florida with the intent of sailing around the world working as a cook on a cruise ship. He stopped in North Augusta with some friends who lived there, met his future wife and never made it to that cruise ship. He worked lots of jobs in the next few years, from installing chain link fences to managing a fast food restaurant.
"I was trying to find myself," Lesser said.
While working as a manager for Krystal, Lesser heard through his banker that the Broadway Tackle and Bait on the 2000 block of Broad Street was for sale. The shop had gone through two owners since its start in the late 1950s.
Up for just about anything, Lesser decided it sounded like something he wanted to try. His wife, Diane, quit school to help him get started and they took over the business in 1980.
Within the next few years, the tackle shop had grown and Diane was able to go back to school. Five years after buying Broadway, the business had grown so much that he moved it to a building on the Augusta Canal.
The building formerly housed Hamilton's Liquor Store. Lesser said when he took over the building there were remnants of a wall that divided the bar area into sections for "whites" and "colored."
Turning the building into a tackle shop took some work, but Lesser said it was a gradual process that still isn't over.
"I just kind of improvised," he said of the renovation process. "Whatever counters we could find, whatever cabinets we could afford."
Lesser improved the building, expanded his inventory and bought neighboring properties as they became available. After a few years at the new location, he decided to add on to the building using the properties he had acquired.
The shop's proximity to the Augusta Canal meant he could expand the boat, kayak and canoe side of the business. Broadway had a small selection of kayaks, canoes and john boats but now Lesser was able to build an area to house more boats for rentals along the canal, Savannah River and Thurmond Lake.
In 2010, Lesser celebrated owning Broadway Tackle for 30 years. He now employs one part-time employee and one full-time employee. The secret to keeping a niche business afloat, he says, is making wise long-term decisions.
"It's because my counters aren't brand new, it's because my ceiling is screwed up," he said with a laugh. "I don't think a new ceiling is going to help us sell more tackle."
The new Kroc Center moving in across the street, however, is something he says will help the business.
"I think it will lend respectability to this area, and potentially attract other businesses to the area," he said. "I don't think we'll have a flood of traffic the day they open their doors or anything, but I'm optimistic."
Owning a small business does have upsides, such as setting your own hours and vacation time, but Lesser said this comes only after years of working a one-man show.
"It's great owning your own business, but it's not easy, especially at first," he said. "But as a business owner, you're directly compensated for your efforts - if I make the right buying decisions, I get the satisfaction of seeing things sell."
Lesser joked that although he does love fishing, he loves working in the tackle shop even more and that is the secret to his long-term success.
"We have seen a lot of people come and go in the tackle shop industry around here," he said. "I like to fish, but I like working in retail as well, so I think it worked out well."
A ‘hometown store'
The time he has spent in his shop has taught him volumes about the inventory. Lesser said his customers know they can get sound advice about equipment.
"People know they can come here and be guided to exactly what they need," he said. "We sell stuff that other people don't sell, and we fix things that other people don't fix."
Trey Beck has been a Broadway Tackle customer for as long as he can remember, and agrees that what sets the store apart is its personalized and knowledgeable service.
"It's a great hometown store," Beck said. "Instead of dealing with someone who doesn't have a clue, you've got someone who has been in it for so long."
Beck competes in bass tournaments, and said Broadway is able to accommodate his needs.
"They have a great selection, but even if they don't have it, they'll order it," he said. "It's real one-on-one service."
Repair and warranty work account for a substantial part of Lesser's business. Broadway Tackle is a certified repair or warranty center for nearly 20 brands of equipment.
This warranty and repair work helps keep business steady even when the fish aren't biting, Lesser said. He stumbled onto this side of the business when a customer asked whether the shop offered repair services.
"I've always been pretty handy, so when they asked, I automatically said yes," he said. "When the customer walked out, I just looked at the motor they left and called the manufacturer."
He fixed the motor, and decided repair work could be the answer to his slow season, from late summer to early winter. There was a little training involved to become certified as a repair or warranty center for each brand, but it didn't take much time.
"When I saw that this was a viable source of revenue, we got started," he said.
Those slow months now are welcomed, Lesser said. He uses that time to make buying decisions for the next season, re-evaluate things around the store and catch his breath.
"I collect my wits, take stock and get ready for next year," he said.
Around the Augusta area, the heaviest fishing time is February through June. He said area fishermen focus on bass and panfish such as crappie or bream.
One thing that Lesser has become more aware of through his business is wildlife preservation and responsible fishing.
"I definitely am a conservationist," he said. "Getting into this business made me more so, just listening to stories of abuse."
Lesser said it worries him when he hears fishermen talk about catching and keeping too many fish, decreasing the population and knocking the ecosystem off balance. It's important, he said, to listen to wildlife experts and manage resources wisely for future generations.
"It's a no-brainer," he said.