In an area behind the register at Geno's Minno Mart, you'll find every photo ever featured in The Columbus Telegram that ran as part of "Geno's Fishing Report."

To this day, whenever store manager Dan Kneifel drops off photos of local fishermen, and fisherwomen, showing off their latest catch to share with area readers, business owner Delores Kneifel, Dan's mother, still requests those photos be returned.

Saved and preserved in various scrapbooks and photo albums, it's 47 years of Columbus history.

And rightly so.

Certain locations around town are positively and conclusively Columbus.

Nearly 50 years after it's founding, Geno's has to be considered one of those pillars of the community. Founded in 1962 as a service station/gas stop, what would eventually become the area's most comprehensive and complete bait and tackle store evolved from meager beginnings.

Francis Eugene Kneifel (Geno) had a minnow tank in his service station when it first opened. A few years later, he added a second tank. Nightcrawlers followed soon after.

Fast forward to 2019 and Geno's is now the premier outfitter of fishing poles, rods and reels, lures and bait for the residents of Columbus and anyone within a 50 or 60-mile radius.

However, passing Geno's on 33rd Avenue, motorists might have noticed a different look recently. The exterior of the building has undergone a facelift and about 450 feet of retail space has been added inside.

It's a project Delores Kneifel and Geno, who passed away in 2018, had been planning for some time but never quite had the funds to make it a reality. That all changed just over a year ago when Geno's sold its ice business of 34 years.

Delores and Dan invested around $75,000 from the sale back into the fishing, bait and tackle store. Last fall, Dan and a friend began turning the outside of the building into a log cabin.

Inside, an area reserved for tools and refrigeration used in the ice business has been altered into more space for rods, reels and lures.

Yet, while much has changed in the 47 years since Francis Eugene Kneifel first opened his business, Geno's remains one of the major arteries supplying lifeblood to the city of Columbus.

"A lot of people say that," Dan said during an interview at the shop on Friday afternoon.

"We take a lot of pride in this. You get people who come in, and it happened just today, and every day you hear, ‘Now my grandkids are in here, and I used to come in here when I was a kid, and my dad took me here.’ It’s generation after generation after generation coming in."

Geno's first opened in 1962 as a way for its founding couple to have a more regular source of income.

Geno, who was employed yearly at Behlen, was normally laid off in the winter when the workload slowed. He tried to find other ways to put food on the table for his wife and five children before ultimately deciding to borrow some money and buy a gas stop.

"Money coming in from help isn’t like it is today," Delores recalled. "If they called you up and said there was a ditch to dig, you went because then you could eat."

Geno's was opened as a service station and gas shop that also had a minnow tank for local fisherman. A few years later, Geno acquired another minnow tank from his brother. Nightcrawlers became part of the regular sales as well.

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"The nightcrawlers, we put them in old-fashioned tubs where you had the Maytag ringer washer. We’d put the worms in there and when someone would come in to buy worms, we’d pick them out," Delores said. "Now, we just open the door to the refrigerator and hand them out."

The service station and gas shop added a small bay to wash cars. Another bay was made for lube service.

If Delores' remembers correctly, Geno's became mostly what it's known for now, a bait and tackle store, around 1968 when rods and reels were added.

It was the first gas station to sell beer in Columbus and began an ice business in 1984.

When that ice business grew by leaps and bounds, the Kneifels were forced to let go of the gas and service station to concentrate on ice.

Tim Kneifel, who passed away two years ago, was the perfect example of the intensive labor Geno's required to be a successful ice business. Customers were sometimes as far away as 60 miles. Tim was usually driving seven days a week making deliveries.

That, plus all the constant bookkeeping and repair on delivery trucks and trailers, kept the Kneifels busy around the clock.

When Tim died tragically in a car accident in 2017, Dan told Delores it was time to slow down.

Now, rather than employ a small army of teenagers to help with packing and loading ice, it's just Dan and Delores who show up to the shop each day and enjoy the business at a slower pace than in the previous three decades.

"Business has increased, but the weather hasn’t helped," Dan said. "There was no spring this year."

"And floods. A lot of places you can’t get to yet to fish," Delores added. "The roads are still out."

"It was going to be an off-year, but we’re still doing OK," Dan said.

Geno's still needs one or two extra workers to help out. The two currently employed part-time have either left or are in the process of leaving for college or new opportunities.

For Columbus teens looking to be a part of history, Dan and Delores may be looking for you.

As far as what's next for Geno's, probably nothing.

Dan still has to stain the log cabin exterior at some point. But future projects are unlikely.

"No," Delores said. "Now, we're going to enjoy life."

Nate Tenopir is the sports editor for The Columbus Telegram. Reach him via email at sports@columbustelegram.com.

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