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By Will Elliott

NEWS OUTDOORS WRITER

Outdoors folk have been ordering items from Cabela’s catalogs for decades. Beginning Thursday, they’ll no longer have to wait for a shipment to arrive as the first store in the state opens in Cheektowaga.

“This is a next-generation Cabela’s,” Don Ashworth, retail marketing manager, said of the store size and layout during a walking tour on Monday.

Anyone who had visited any of the nearly 60 other stores built since the first Sidney, Neb., site in 1961 recalls the mountainous display. Designers build a “mountain” near the center of the store where customers can view full mounts of birds and animals.

“Usually, those stores are more than 100,000 square feet,” Ashworth said, explaining that this new store is 88,000 square feet with all the animal displays overhead.

This newer design is considered a more “urban” approach, but the Cabela’s wildlife-mountain motif is retained in an interactive Conservation Mountain at the rear of the store. Built into a wall, the display includes a variety of game-animal mounts with a panel that animates each with movement and sound.

Murals around the in-wall mountain and around the entire store are hand-painted depictions of area scenes and activities.

“We want to have people see that this is more than a hunting and fishing store,” Ashworth said as we checked out camping and cooking gear. Seminars are being planned for deer processing, meat smoking and other hands-on outdoors cooking demos.

A Power Sports Center offers sales and a three-bay service area for a Cabela’s line of tractors that currently go to 50-hp units.

“We’re looking at 90-hp models sometime soon,” Ashworth added. Food plot growers will have all kinds of working gear to move earth and plant more efficiently.

Ashworth said that about one-eighth of the store’s floor is devoted to fishing, and the gear selections are keyed to angling activity of the region. Andrew “Drew” Messina, a fly fishing outfitter, mans that area and provides tying tips and tricks along with product info.

A Reel Bar has been set up with more than 200 reel models mounted on handles so customers can try features of the spinning, fly, casting and other models. Every store has popular rod and reel models. This store also features an extensive line of models for younger kids, not just “Snoopy kits.”

The store will provide live bait during business hours. As for artificial baits, Ashworth and I did not have time to walk the aisles of spinners, jigs, spoons, spinner baits, crankbaits, and other hard baits in display aisles. That’s because it took some walking around the aisles of used firearms to get to a special room called the “Gun Library.”

All used guns have their story and service features, but items in the Gun Library are collector- and memorabilia-grade shooting tools, some pricey, all valuable.

For example, I was drawn to a late-Civil War era Stoeger I had heard and read about. Priced comparably to an economy car today, this Stoeger might sell for more than a luxury car a decade or so from now.

Along the way we met up with firearms area service personnel, including Jayson Gerhard. Gary Huber, longtime Deer Search coordinator, was off that day but will be around the firearms counter often during and after the official store opening.

Dennis Freeman, another well-known name in firearms sales, joined the Cabela’s staff in that area. Freeman owned and operated Freeman’s Sport Shop in Akron for decades and dealt with virtually every model of sporting, competition, and defensive firearms.

Along with gun gear, the area also has an indoor archery range where shooters can check out Bow-Tech and many other models.

Arrangements are being made to offer hunter and archery certification classes soon after the store’s grand opening.

Cabela’s has its own line of camo gear, including a 3-Season Camo pattern that refracts light, depending on the time of year in given sun.

Clearly, the Cabela’s store chain has been in business to sell products since Dick and Mary Cabela began selling hand-tied flies in 1961.

But the setup of this store is as much a museum/outdoors-arts visit as it is a destination for a shopping trip.

As for shopping, the store offers a free, in-store pick-up area for ordering any Cabela’s item not on the floor.

The Thursday grand opening will be followed with a lineup of demos and hands-on activities Saturday. Messina will do a fly-tying demo. Southtowns Walleye Association will have a trout pond, stocked with 200 fish, to challenge and amuse children. Look for many more exhibits.

email: odrswill@gmail.com