Cabela’s is coming, and it’s expected to be a big lure for outdoor types.
For the Cheektowaga store’s Aug. 7 opening, both town police and state troopers will be on hand to control what are expected to be very large crowds and high volumes of traffic.
At other Cabela’s store openings, thousands of people have lined up outside in the wee hours of the morning, eager for a peek inside the hunting, camping and fishing store.
So what’s all the fuss about?
“It’s the selection,” said Joe Kramer, a fisherman from North Tonawanda. “If you’re looking for something, you can be pretty sure they’ll have it. I’m personally excited about the walleye lures.”
Kramer has ordered from Cabela’s mail-order catalog in the past. He said he will continue to shop at mom-and-pop stores such as Bill’s Hooks, Nick’s Sporting Goods and Niagara Outdoors, but said it’s nice to have another option, especially one as fun to roam as Cabela’s.
Described as a destination store, Cabela’s is known for its sweeping displays and interactive demonstrations.
The Cheektowaga store, at the southeast corner of Interstate 90 and Walden Avenue across from Walden Galleria, has 88,000 square feet of retail space, complete with a try-before-you-buy archery range, gun library and deep-discount “bargain cave.”
Smaller than Cabela’s legacy-concept stores, which can run as large as 200,000 square feet, the Cheektowaga store is part of the company’s “next generation” design.
It has more than 200 mounted displays of its traditional animal taxidermy, but many of them have been moved up near the ceiling to maximize retail floor space.
Instead of the in-store restaurant found at other locations, the store’s Red Hawk Cafe has a deli that will serve traditional food, as well as game-meat sandwiches such as elk, boar and bison.
The gun library, where customers can buy, sell and trade used and antique guns, has firearms from as far back as the Civil War era.
The store’s centerpiece “conservation mountain” displays several mounted animals among a waterfall and 7,000-gallon fish tank that will be stocked with local fish such as perch, walleye, smallmouth bass and tiger muskie. Each nature display is represented on a touch screen at the base of the mountain, which demonstrates the sound that each animal makes.
The store will regularly run demonstrations and classes, covering everything from tying fly-fishing lures to outdoor-style cooking and hunter safety.
Live and frozen bait will be available, along with an extensive line of casual clothing, camping gear, fire pits, grills, smokers, gifts, seasonings and snacks.
The store will also sell fishing boats, utility vehicles, pontoon boats and wildlife management tractors, and will have three service bays along the back of the store to service them.
Cabela’s is known for its knowledgeable staff members, who are recruited for their expertise, and for tailoring its inventory to the region.
That’s a big selling point for Michael Rexford, an avid shooter who served as president of the Tonawanda Sportsmen’s Club for 23 years.
Rexford said many big-box stores “drop the ball” when it comes to service and localized inventory.
“I’ve had people show up for my shooting classes with a firearm they bought at a big-box store, and the telescopic scope is for the wrong caliber gun,” Rexford said. “That’s just horrible. It does a disservice to people.”
He said he has heard buzz in the sporting community that people are “big-time excited” about the arrival of Cabela’s. “The people they hire are experts in their field,” Rexford said, “and that’s very important.”
Cabela’s said that it knew from its mail-order and online business that it had a strong and loyal customer base in Western New York.
The company believes that it has a chance to build an even stronger following with all of the outdoor opportunities provided by the proximity of the Great Lakes, as well as the region’s rivers and wilderness. “It’s the fanaticism of the Cabela’s customer; that’s why we’re here,” said Donald Ashworth, a spokesman for the Cheektowaga store.
Indeed, Western New York is a big outdoors market. More hunting and fishing licenses are issued in Erie County than anywhere else in New York State, according to the state Department of Environmental Conservation.
In Western New York, there are dozens of smaller, independently owned outdoors stores that cater to sportsmen. In terms of corporate competition, several big-box retailers such as Walmart and Target sell a limited assortment of fishing gear. Walmart stores in the Buffalo Niagara region do not sell firearms, but do sell ammunition.
Dick’s Sporting Goods, which has locations in Amherst, Clarence and the Galleria, sells guns, archery and fishing supplies but focuses more on traditional sports as well as the camping, hiking and kayaking aspects of outdoors sports. Minnesota-headquartered Gander Mountain, which focuses more specifically on hunting and fishing, has a store in the Town of Tonawanda.
The Cabela’s store is behind the Olive Garden restaurant in the former Wegmans supermarket. It expects to draw customers from as far away as Southern Ontario, Central New York, northern Pennsylvania and even northeast Ohio.
This store was built without tax breaks or incentives and ahead of schedule. It cuts a sharp contrast to the Bass Pro store that was planned for the downtown Buffalo waterfront. That prospect of that store, which was offered tens of millions of dollars in incentives, dragged on for years and never materialized.
The Cabela’s location in Cheektowaga is the Nebraska-headquartered company’s 60th store and its first store in New York. It employs more than 225 full- and part-time workers. The store opens at 11 a.m. Aug. 7.
A grand-opening party, with a fishing pond and entertainment, will begin at 8 a.m.