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Cabela’s grand opening draws more than 1,000 fans of the outdoors

Andrew Staley of Kenmore arrived at Cabela’s in Cheektowaga at 10 a.m. Wednesday.

Garrett Hamilton, a deerhunting guide from Utica, Ohio, arrived at 1:30 a.m. Thursday, after a six-hour drive.

They and several hundred other sportsmen and women were present Thursday morning at 11 a.m. for the grand opening of Cabela’s - the first of the outdoors store’s branches to open in New York State.

“I’ve never seen anything like it,” said Thomas Millner, Cabela’s CEO. “We usually have about 50 people in line at 8 a.m. and it grows from there. But to have 1,000 people – oh my gosh.”

The outdoors store attracted 1,600 people to the opening, and roughly a thousand were there before 8 a.m.

Hamilton wanted to see how the Cheektowaga store compares to others he’s seen in Pennsylvania, Illinois and one near his home in Columbus.

“This is what hunters do,” he said. “Hunters are passionate people.”

The 88,000-square-foot Cheektowaga store has a used-gun library, a try-before-you-buy archery range and a deli that serves elk on weck sandwiches.

Shoppers came from as far away as Pennsylvania, Syracuse and Ohio to get a glimpse inside.

Carl Bailey of Niagara Falls has been ordering through the Cabela’s catalog for decades. The 77-year-old showed up at 3 a.m. in a Cabela’s brand safari suit.

“If you like fashion, you go to Paris," he said. “If you like the outdoors, you go to Cabela’s.”

Hannah Mussel and Jenna Quenneville, both 18, of the city of Tonawanda, checked out the Cabela’s camouflage hoodies and apparel. Both women hunt and fish, and they usually shop at Gander Mountain and Tractor Supply Co. in Lockport. But they have been waiting for Cabela’s with its deep inventory and varied selection.

“It’s nice to have another full-blown outdoors store,” Mussel said. “You don’t have many around here unless it’s something like Dick’s, where you just have one little section.”

Cheektowaga Police and state police were on hand Thursday to manage the massive flow of traffic into and out of the new Cabela’s Crossing plaza on Walden Avenue just south of Walden Galleria near the former Wegmans store. No major traffic snarls were reported, according to Lt. Steve Berecz of the Cheektowaga Police.

Representatives from other area outdoors stores said Cabela’s could take some business away, but thought the megastore’s presence could be good for business overall.

A manager at Buffalo Gun Center on Harlem Road said it’s “healthy to have competition.”

Patricia Van Camp, owner of Big Catch Bait and Tackle on Niagara Street, said she was “anti-Bass Pro” but is all for Cabela’s, and not just because the company is buying its live bait from her store.

“I think they’re going to do well,” she said.

Cabela’s was built without tax breaks or incentives and ahead of schedule. That cuts a sharp contrast to the Bass Pro store that was planned for the former Aud site near Canalside in downtown Buffalo. The prospect of that store, which was offered tens of millions of dollars in incentives, dragged on for years and never materialized.

Millner, the CEO of the Nebraska-based Cabela’s, said the retailer knew from its years in the catalog business that it had a lot of customers in Western New York and was drawn to the possibility of building a retail store here. A visit to the Cheektowaga property two years ago sealed the deal to make it New York’s first location.

“We said, ‘Are you kidding me?’ ” Millner said. “You’re at the corner of retail and Main Street,” he said, emphasizing the popularity of the site.

The store’s easy access, visibility and proximity to the high-traffic Walden Galleria clinched the deal.

The store expects to draw customers from Southern Ontario, Ohio and Pennsylvania. Although there is a store in Hamburg, Pa., the Cheektowaga store is closer for many Pennsylvania customers.

The Cabela’s location in Cheektowaga is Cabela’s 60th store. It employs more than 225 full- and part-time workers. The company has doubled its retail footprint in the last six years.