Jeffrey Neil Fox will never forget Jan. 27, 2003.
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers had just won their only Super Bowl championship the night before, and some fans waited three hours to get into his store, Authentic Team Merchandise, It's Bucs & Bulls Heaven.
An officer was directing traffic outside. Fans were buying Bucs gear straight out of the box.
"It was pandemonium. It was a frenzy of fans," Fox said today.
If only the Bucs could win Super Bowl rings every year.
Fox will shut his shop, at 1418 E. Busch Blvd., perhaps by the end of August. He is closed for a few days to prepare for his liquidation sale, but will begin his 50 percent off sale at 9 a.m. Thursday.
He faced all the usual challenges of independent retailers – a poor economy and big-box competition – coupled with a few years of weak Bucs teams and TV blackouts. Ultimately, Bucs & Bulls Heaven's business model just didn't work anymore, he said.
Fox, 59, is a husky man with a Long Island accent, the gift of gab and a resemblance to Bedrock's own Fred Flintstone. In fact, his wife sometimes calls him Fred.
He purchased a small Bucs publication from former team owner Hugh Culverhouse in 1991 and eventually renamed it the Pewter Report, often writing stories and shooting pictures himself. He sold the magazine in 2006.
Fox started his store, then called Authentic Team Merchandise, It's Bucs Heaven, in 1996 at its original location on North Florida Avenue. He opened around the time the Bucs ditched Buccaneer Bruce – the flamboyant pirate with the dagger in his teeth – for the current skull and crossed swords logo.
"We couldn't give that away," Fox said of Bucco Bruce. "Now, everyone loves it."
For years, genuine fans went there for the latest Bucs gear. Bucs royalty including Lee Roy Selmon, Derrick Brooks and John Lynch signed autographs there, and it often was the first place news crews went to interview rabid fans. A University of South Florida graduate, Fox eventually added "Bulls" to his name and began selling USF gear at college games.
Business hasn't been so heavenly over the last few years, though.
People have had less money to spend, and when they were in a spending mood it too often was at Wal-Mart or on the Internet. The constant blackouts of Bucs games, meantime, did nothing to boost fan interest.
As sales slipped, Fox moved out of his longtime Florida Avenue location and into a much smaller store on Busch Boulevard, but eventually it no longer made sense to stay in business there, either.
Today, Fox is planning his next act. He operates a Web site at www.jeffreyneilfox.com that he hopes to turn into a popular sports portal, featuring deals on travel packages to away games, tailgating tips and advertising. He's planning a book and expecting his first grandchild.
Whatever he does, he insists it will put fans first.
"We catered to the fans since the beginning," he said.