Image: Cabela's store
Bob Child  /  ASSOCIATED PRESS
The sight of an artificial mountain and a full-sized airplane greets customers as they enter the new Cabela's outdoors goods store in East Hartford, Conn.
updated 10/19/2007 5:24:36 PM ET 2007-10-19T21:24:36

Leslie Coppola and Mark Guimond detoured several years ago while heading home from a vacation in Virginia, visiting a Cabela's outdoors store in eastern Pennsylvania, where they camped out in their Winnebago at night and shopped during the day.

Coppola and Guimond can now take holidays a little closer to their New Britain home. Cabela's is set to open Friday in East Hartford and, like its other 21 stores, is touted as a tourist destination.

"We took a couple of vacation days to be here," Coppola said Thursday outside the store after she won permission to bring their RV on Friday. "It's incredible. It's absolutely incredible."

Cabela's, which has stores primarily in the South, West and Midwest, was putting the finishing touches on its first New England store Thursday afternoon, hours before opening to the public. Clerks arranged sweaters on display, workers inspected an aquarium and other employees stocked shelves.

A retail destination
The 185,000 square feet of retail space is not a typical store. Though Cabela's sells clothing, guns, food, camping and fishing gear, automotive equipment, hunting equipment, pet supplies and more, it promotes its business as a sort of natural history museum.

At East Hartford, that includes two 5,000-gallon aquarium tanks with carp, trout and other fish and a diorama with an elephant, lion, zebra, hyena and other African animals.

It boasts an artificial mountain populated by numerous stuffed animals, including a polar bear that reaches out to customers.

And a mounted stuffed bear's head, with eyes and a mouth that mechanically move, beckons children into a shooting gallery with a plea to "try your luck."

"We're a destination," said regional manager Mike Boldrick.

Half of Cabela's shoppers travel 100 miles or more, he said. For example, at its store in Dundee, Mich., license plates from as many as 20 states are typical on a busy day, he said.

Cabela's picked the East Hartford site because it already has many catalog customers in the area — it mails 120 million catalogs a year — and is close to southern New England's coastal fishing areas, Boldrick said. Additionally, the new store was built next to Rentschler Field, the University of Connecticut's football stadium, where on any Saturday afternoon as many as 40,000 fans could be a short walk away.

  1. Don't miss these Travel stories
    1. Lords of the gourd compete for Punkin Chunkin honors

      With teams using more than 100 unique apparatuses to launch globular projectiles a half-mile or more, the 27th annual World Championship Punkin Chunkin event is our pick as November’s Weird Festival of the Month.

    2. Airports, airlines work hard to return your lost items
    3. Expert: Tourist hordes threaten Sistine Chapel's art
    4. MGM Grand wants Las Vegas guests to Stay Well
    5. Report: Airlines collecting $36.1B in fees this year

The destination-retail business is catching on, said Derek W. Leckow, an analyst at Barrington Research in Chicago.

Revenue at Cabela's has risen by more than 78 percent, from $1.2 billion in 2002 to $2.18 billion on June 30, according to Capitaliq.com. Profit rose by nearly 85 percent, from nearly 47 million to about $87 million in the same period.

"They're doing very well," Leckow said. "Cabela's had a strong catalog operation for a long time. Their objective now is to build destination-entertainment locations."

Clothing and more
Based in Sidney, Neb., Cabela's is tentatively planning a second New England store next year in Scarborough, Maine.

Scarborough is 25 miles from Freeport, the home of L.L. Bean, but a major competitor of Cabela's is Bass Pro Shops, which is opening a store in Foxborough, Mass., in November.

Like Cabela's, more than half of Bass Pro's customers come from more than 100 miles, Bass Pro spokesman Larry L. Whiteley said.

"The average stay is four hours. Many will stay all day long," he said. "Our stores are like natural history museums."

As much as 37 percent of a Bass Pro store is dedicated to non-retail attractions, such as aquariums, waterfalls, dioramas and murals, Whiteley said.

Shoppers at Cabela's can find clothing and other items purchased at department stores, but they're never far from hunting equipment and ancillary merchandise. For sale are camouflage clothes, meat processing machines for hunters Boldrick said are "lucky to take an animal," shotguns, ammunition, fishing rods, laser range finders and animal practice targets showing vital organs where hunters can aim.

And Cabela's also sports a "gun library" with antique guns that can sell for as much as $25,999.

"Our demographic is the person who enjoys the outdoors," Boldrick said.

Coppola and Guimond, ready to fetch their Winnebago and bring it to Cabela's, said they enjoy fishing and camping more than hunting. But at the Cabela's in Hamburg, Pa., their favorite activity was shopping.

"It was definitely an all-day event," Coppola said.

Copyright 2007 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Discuss:

Discussion comments

,

Most active discussions

  1. votes comments
  2. votes comments
  3. votes comments
  4. votes comments