Happiness down home: Justin Boyles finds his niche operating Belgreen community hotspot
“For me, it took living away from the area for a little while to realize what I really had here in Franklin County. When you’re 20, you think you’re grown, but you’re really still just a kid.”
Justin Boyles explained living elsewhere helped put him on the path to understanding what he really wants and where he wants to be. The Russellville native has, since 2016, been the owner of CJ’s Bait and Tackle in Belgreen – but his history in the county he loves goes back to his childhood.
Raised in Russellville, Boyles spent his time hunting, fishing and playing golf.
“If I wasn’t playing golf, I mostly hunted or fished, often at Slickrock and the Bear Creek lakes,” he said. “I spent a lot of time at Cedar Lake. I’d go hunting with my dad or my friends. Depending on the season, we’d hunt deer or turkeys or squirrels, often going before or after school. I played golf during high school.”
After graduating from Russellville High School in 2004, he spent 2005-2006 living at home and attending Northwest-Shoals Community College on a golf scholarship, taking classes at both the Phil Campbell and Muscle Shoals campuses.
“I especially loved the Phil Campbell campus; for me, it provided more of a social experience,” said Boyles, “but I also took classes in Muscle Shoals since playing golf meant spending time at Robert Trent Jones and Cypress Lake.
“I loved my time on the Phil Campbell campus, and I got to meet a lot of people I probably wouldn’t have otherwise. I’m still in contact with many of them.”
Upon finishing his classes at NW-SCC, he had a decision to make. “It was between going to the University of North Alabama, an option that would have let me continue playing golf, or giving up golf to attend the University of Alabama at Tuscaloosa.”
He ultimately chose to continue his education at Alabama, and that was his first experience living away from home. “I liked the idea of experiencing all that. It sounded exciting. We visited Tuscaloosa a lot on the weekends while I was growing up, but it’s different when you’re there every day.”
He got roommates, made friends and enjoyed going to UA football games, parties and other places and events – but he also got increasingly homesick. After three semesters, Boyles said he realized he just wasn’t happy there. “Living in another city caused me to realize I had taken Franklin County for granted,” he said. “I’m more about the simple life, and I wasn’t even sure where to try to look for that down there.”
He said there is something going on to keep people busy every night in Tuscaloosa – which can be a problem for those who aren’t disciplined about how much time they are spending going out. “It means a lot, being able to go to the places I’ve known my whole life and being closer to friends and family. I wanted to be back in Franklin County.”
Boyles moved back home, worked at CB&S Bank and stayed with his parents while finishing his degree at UNA, graduating in 2011 with a major in marketing in business administration. Moving back home marked a return to free time spent hunting and fishing – which likely served as a crucial stepping stone on the path to where he is now.
After leaving his job at CB&S, he took a sales job for Parker’s Distributing, attending trade shows and then selling the merchandise wholesale. This new job was based just a few miles past CJ’s Bait and Tackle in Belgreen. “I always knew the owners, Ty and Pam Hester,” Boyles explained. In his youth, “I would go to the store a lot, especially in the evenings during summer, in between participating in bass fishing tournaments at Cedar Creek and Little Bear. My dad enjoys crappie fishing, and growing up, this is where we would stop.”
When the Hesters mentioned the possibility of selling the store one, Boyles asked them to let him know if they ever decided to follow through on the idea. It was a few years later that he got a call.
“I was in Las Vegas at a trade show for Parker’s,” Boyles said. “I got a phone call asking if I was still interested in buying the store, so I said I was but would have to see if I could get approved for a loan.” The bank agreed, and he bought the store in September 2016.
“I had experience in sales, but when it came to owning the store, I had to learn fast,” explained Boyles. “I love the social aspect of owning and working in a local store.”
He said frequently seeing the same repeat customers helps reinforce the feeling of community. “Although I grew up in Russellville, I’m now part of the Belgreen community, too, and it’s tight-knit,” Boyles said. “I like to do things such as help with the school when I can. The same year I bought the store, I also bought a house on the lake, just four or five miles from there, on Hooty Hoot Hollow Road.”
Open seven days a week, the store isn’t just a place to shop, Boyles said – it’s also a community hub. “We have a restaurant inside. People buy fishing and hunting licenses and bait. They ask about where the fish are biting and if we know what’s going on when there’s something happening in the community.
“We have a lot of regulars. There’s a group of men that comes every morning to talk and drink coffee and have breakfast. We enjoy seeing them, and they check on each other if one of them doesn’t show up.”
Another perk is getting to work with his family. Boyles said his sister, Keslie, lives in Birmingham, but his parents, Ken and Rhonda, help him run the store. “Dad prices baits and other merchandise, and Mom helps me out if I need to leave. We’ve always been a close family, but I like that we are working on this together,” he said. “I also have dedicated employees who put in a lot of time and effort, and I appreciate them. They take a lot of pride in what they do, and I couldn’t remain successful without them.”
What plans does he have for the future?
“I’m content with how things are,” explained Boyles, “and I don’t want to do anything like own multiple stores, but I eventually want to make some improvements, renovating and adding to this location.”