Bass Pro chief apologizes to Valrico store for logo challenge
VALRICO - Call it a victory for the little guy. Kelly Morris, owner of a Valrico store specializing in outdoors apparel, had a surprise resolution to his costly legal battle with retail giant Bass Pro Shops on Saturday. The company's founder and owner, Johnny Morris, showed up in Morris' Simple Life Outfitters store to apologize for Bass Pro's tactics over the local store's logo. Kelly Morris said he was promised Bass Pro would drop its legal challenge on Monday and would refund the $1,500 he has spent contesting Bass Pro's contention his store's logo was trademark infringement. "He told me he was on a fishing trip in Fort Myers with his wife when he heard about what was going on," Kelly Morris said. "They drove up and walked right into my store and asked for me. He said, 'My name is Johnny Morris.' I said, 'Are you the Johnny Morris from Bass Pro Shops,' and he said he was."He said he wasn't aware of what was going on, but he would stop it on Monday morning. He apologized and said that's not the way he wants to do business. That gave me a lot of respect for him, to be honest with you. I respect any man who would drive all that way to admit he was wrong." Kelly Morris' plight was the subject of a column in Saturday's Tampa Tribune and a report on News Channel 8. Readers and viewers expressed outrage, posting their anger on the Bass Pro website as well as TBO.com. The 1,200-square-foot store in a strip mall along State Road 60 was unusually busy Saturday as people flocked there to show support for Morris. "I am really flabbergasted by the reaction," Morris said. "I even got a call from someone in Australia who saw the story. I think all that support no doubt made a difference. This community is amazing in the way it got behind me." The logo for Simple Life Outfitters, designed by Morris' cousin, depicts a bass, snook and redfish inside a green circle. Bass Pro's attorneys maintained it potentially could cause confusion with the company's famous single bass logo in colors of red and yellow. "(Johnny Morris) said he really liked my logo, once he saw it," Kelly Morris said. Kelly Morris realized a long-time dream when he and his wife opened their store two years ago. They used proceeds from a $50,000 buyout he received from Verizon with money from the couple's 401(k) retirement plan to get the store running. The problems with Bass Pro began several months ago as Morris tried to complete the process to trademark the Simple Life logo. Despite multiple responses from his lawyer to answer the Bass Pro challenges, the dispute continued until Saturday. The reversal comes as Bass Pro negotiates with Hillsborough County about placing a store in Brandon. Negotiations have been ongoing for about a year about potential taxpayer-funded incentives to the company. The latest plan calls for more than $8 million from the county for road and infrastructure improvements in the area around the proposed superstore. The county commission might take up the matter at a Feb. 6 meeting. Bass Pro has received public help from many cities throughout the country, but not without controversy. The company says it brings jobs and economic benefits with each new store, but small business owners complain Bass Pro makes it hard for them to survive. All Kelly Morris knows is that his battle with the giant company had a happy ending. "My head is still spinning," he said. "To have Johnny Morris drive up here like he did just makes me feel awesome. But I still don't think they should get the $8 million."