For hunters, fishermen, candy store opening up



September 30, 2001|By CANDUS THOMSON

At first glance, the new Bass Pro Shops Outdoors World at Arundel Mills looks like a big toy box. More than three acres of floor space stuffed with everything and anything a sportsman or woman could want.

Come to think of it, the store looks like a toy box on glances two through 10, too.

Hide the kids and the credit cards, folks, the test of willpower and self-discipline is upon us.

It was one thing when the catalog arrived in the mail, hitting the foyer floor with a thump. Bass Pro was in Springfield, Mo., a telephone call away. Now, it's almost moved into the house next door. It even has its own mall entrance. Let's hope it doesn't get a drive-through window.

Outdoor World opens Thursday, but I did a little pre-opening tire kicking last week with Joe Evans, a local guy hired to handle promotions and other attention-grabbing stuff. Evans used to travel the country for Orvis, helping local merchants launch miniature versions of the Vermont fly-fishing retailer. He's also a heck of a guide.

The store has an Adirondack lodge look, with big timber supports, fieldstone floors and stuffed critters grazing the aisles. Overhead dangles a float plane, and along one wall is a 50,000-gallon tank stocked with native Maryland fish. The tank has a platform along the edge for equipment demonstrations.

In the center of it all is a three-story mountain for rock climbing that has a waterfall tumbling from the top.

You'd be hard-pressed to come up with a piece of tackle the store doesn't have. More than 30,000 lures hang from display boards or are tucked into little drawers. Lined up in the middle of the fishing department are more than 5,000 rods -- freshwater and salt water. Nearby are rows upon rows of reels.

If Bass Pro doesn't have what you're looking for, "we have to get it. That's our mandate," says Evans.

It's also reassuring to note that Bass Pro has hired a number of experienced hands to help customers. In addition to Evans, guide and author Larry Coburn runs the fly shop (more on that later), Greg Bowser, an officer of the Maryland Sportsmen's Association, works in the hunting department, and Larry Duckworth of the Vingt Neuf Bowmen in Baltimore County runs the archery section.

No more going into a big box store and being waited on by someone who knows more about steam irons than muzzleloaders.

If you've been able to fight the urge to buy a boat, by all means stay out of the right-hand corner, up near the entrance. Bass Pro has a soup-to-nuts marine department that sells six brands of boats, everything from a flat-bottom skiff to a metal-fleck bass boat. Before you can say, "Does this come in any other color?" the staff will arrange a line of credit, put a hitch on your vehicle and install any extra goodies you select.

"You can be home before your spouse even knows what you did," cracks Evans.

"Does Bass Pro have a divorce lawyer on staff, too?" I ask.

At the back of the toy box is Coburn's home away from home -- the fly shop - laid out in a faux cabin setting with antique gear and pictures of fishing presidents on the walls and handsome wooden display cases filled with Orvis, Loomis and Bass Pro's own White River gear.

"All I need is a pot-bellied stove and I'll be making biscuits and cornbread," says Coburn.

Coburn owned a hunting and fishing shop in Laurel, but got out of the retail business several years back when a large sporting goods store moved in on Route 1.

He was fishing out west when Bass Pro called, looking to put his popular freshwater book, "Guide to Maryland Trout Fishing," written with Charlie Gelso, on the shelves. One thing led to another, and now Coburn is back in retail.

Evans and Coburn say Bass Pro will cast a large shadow over the retail market, but not so large that it kills the little guys.

"The well-run tackle and hunting shops are going to do well," Evans says. "They have good locations, they know their base and they have a loyal clientele. The big-box stores that do not specialize in hunting and fishing, that don't have a sales force with the proper background, might feel it."

To prove its commitment to the community, Bass Pro is turning its opening night into the kickoff for a five-year, $5 million campaign for Chesapeake Bay conservation.

The company will match donations made to its conservation fund, which will benefit 10 organizations that are partners in the Chesapeake Conservation Challenge: the Chesapeake Bay Foundation, the Coastal Conservation Association, Trout Unlimited, the Izaak Walton League, the National Wild Turkey Federation, the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation, Ducks Unlimited, the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation and The Conservation Fund.

The opening will have a number of stars, including the Ravens' Tony Siragusa, who has insisted on being billed as a "full-time outdoorsman and part-time football player."

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