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Bass Pro Shops latest addition in crowd of Anchorage outdoors retailers

Mike Campbell

No, it doesn't just sell gear for catching large and smallmouth bass, a species notably absent from Alaska.

Bass Pro Shops, the seller of a huge array of outdoors gear, announces it will open a 100,000-square-foot Anchorage store off of Glenn Highway and Mountain View Drive in the Glenn Square Shopping Center next May, just in time for the fishing season to begin. Construction over the winter aims to expand 60,000 square feet of retail space that already exists at the location.

“It’s about time, isn’t it?” said Larry Whiteley, the communications director of Bass Pro Shops in a phone interview. “Timing is everything, and the opportunity is abundant there. The company is in the middle of a big retail expansion now. There are a lot of customers up there that buy from our catalog.”

Bass Pro Shops, which operates 77 stores nationwide, said the expansion should generate 200 Alaska jobs.

Outdoors retail explosion

In recent months, outdoors retailers have been seeing profit potential in Anchorage. Earlier this year, the Nebraska-based outdoor retail giant Cabela's Inc. announced it planned a 100,000-square-foot store in South Anchorage, near West 104th Avenue and C Street. Construction is expected to begin next spring, with the Anchorage Cabela's expected to feature at least a few of the things that have turned the company's stores elsewhere into minor tourist attractions, including wildlife displays, trophy animal mounts displayed on a mountain, and a 5,575-gallon aquarium.

Both big retailers aim to grab a share of the market already divided among a number of smaller Anchorage stores, including REI, Alaska Mountaineering and Hiking, Sportsman’s Warehouse, The Sports Authority, Barney’s Sports Chalet, Mountain View Sports, World Wide Angler, Sixth Avenue Outfitters, B&J Sports – plus a number of general retailers like Fred Meyer and Walmart that offer outdoors departments.

You might expect an explosion of outdoor retail activity to mirror similar growth in fishing, hunting and other outdoor pursuits.  But it may not. Over the last half-dozen years ending in 2011, the number of resident fishing licenses sold by the Alaska Department of Fish and Game dipped 8.4 percent to 107,703.  Over the same period, resident hunting license sales are up 3 percent, and combination fishing-hunting licenses are up 2 percent.

“This is a huge increase in a very short time,” state economist Neal Fried of the Alaska Department of Labor and Workforce Development said of Cabela’s and Bass Pro Shops both coming to Anchorage. “The market is definitely not growing that fast -- by any means. Maybe they’ve tapped out the national market. Where else can you go?”

Beyond shopping

Fried said the big outdoors retailers may be focused on how much money outdoors-oriented Alaskans spend as well as the prospect of attracting customers from the Matanuska-Susitna Borough, the Kenai Peninsula and Fairbanks. 

“I suspect a lot of Alaskans buy stuff in the catalog or over the Internet,” Fried said.  “But people do like to touch things and look at the stuff. When there’s more stuff to buy, people buy more.”

Bass Pro Shops bills itself as a top retailer of Remington and Winchester guns and ammunition. It sells a bevy of fishing gear and is a top dealer of Arctic Cat all-terrain vehicles.

Like Cabela’s, the stores of Bass Pro Shops seek to deliver an experience that goes beyond shopping, often with log and rock work featured in the store and a huge aquarium stocked with local fish.  In its press release, company officials say the new Anchorage outlet will feature “historic photos and exhibits will pay tribute to Alaska’s great outdoor heritage.” A 4-acre wetlands nature center is planned next to the store.

Both stores are already trying to woo Alaskans.

While announcing the Anchorage expansion, Cabela’s CEO Tommy Millner said: “What can I say about Alaskans? We love them; so many of them live the Cabela’s lifestyle. We love the whole Last Frontier State and what it represents. We’ve lost count of how many times Alaskans have told us they rely on Cabela’s not only for their outdoor recreation, but for their everyday living. For years, we’ve wanted to build a store there for our loyal customers.”

Added Pro Bass Shops’ Whiteley on Tuesday: “We don’t worry about Cabela’s. We do our own thing and do it very well.  We complement each other. We’re as much of a natural history museum as a store.”

Contact Mike Campbell at mcampbell(at)alaskadispatch.com