Cabela’s in West Chester: Bigger than all outdoors because of big bank accounts

It has been a week of amazing fun and innovation culminating in the opening of a new Cabela’s in my hometown, on the border of Liberty Township and West Chester Township. I went to the Grand Opening with my son-in-law and took a moment to just soak up the moment. With the Wetherington Country Club on my right and the new Liberty Center development on my left while facing the grand façade of the new outdoor outfitter, I had to consider how wonderful these developments were, and how amazingly creative the minds of ingenuity behind them were that made it all possible. From the smallest fishing lure to the most epic of dining experiences, the spot that I stood upon I once hiked as a kid that at the time was considered remote and way out-of-the-way from anything resembling development. Yet where I stood was ground central to some of the greatest capitalist investment in the United States, and I simply loved it. Country music played to a line of people who had been waiting to get into Cabela’s for days as the sun rose through blotchy clouds above the now familiar building. Outdoor exhibits filled the parking lot giving the feel of a county fair; it was a truly American experience. I couldn’t help but swell with pride that I lived in a country where such things were celebrated with such gusto. Then the doors opened and a rush of people to be the first inside collapsed reason for yearnings specific to the human need for adventure.

Inside was 82,000 SF of greatness, of American pride, guns, camping equipment, outdoor gear, fishing boats and lures—of everything someone who spends time outside could possibly want. Now in this area we are a little spoiled, we have a Bass Pro. We have a Dicks Sporting Goods which I have been spending a lot of time at lately. So we have access to outdoor supplies in quantities that are unique to our regional market. And I still love those stores. In fact, I am excited about the Bass Pro that is about to break ground this fall just a few miles to the south—a 125,000 SF facility that will be quite a bit larger than this Cabela’s. But for me, Cabela’s is a sentimental victory—a regional game changer that I will be intensely loyal to. I have always loved their supplies and have ordered from them through mail order for years. Most of my cloths have come from Cabela’s over a long period of time. And without question, most of my future cloths will come from the very store I was standing in. I had the thought that a younger version of myself was meeting an older version right there in that store—and it was a soul unifying experience.   The lighting was wonderful; it was like walking into the Wizard of Oz film for the first time when movie goers saw color after the first half hour was in black and white. It was more than a store—it was Heaven’s Gate.image

The same kind of goose bumps that I get when I see the Smith & Wesson logo, or that of Ruger was evident upon viewing the entire fabulous inventory Cabel’s had on display in those opening moments. It was a moment that I will never forget and will go down in history as one of my favorite experiences. All was right in the world at that moment, it was Christmas in August—Americana in all its glory was on full display. Paradise was upon us and it was simply glorious.image

I remember when Liberty Township was very rural, cows were on farms with every mile traversed. My roots in Liberty Township go back to before there was ever an American Revolution so there are few living here now who can claim such a history. If anybody should have anxiety over all the development, it should be me—and on some projects I don’t like them. For instance, I was not a fan of the 129 connector. Too many people lost their land to the hands of government, and a scar cut right through my township which likely laid my foundations toward government opinion to this day. It was a bad deal and it has not saved Hamilton from economic destruction, the way that the highway was sold. Route 4 is the artery for development that is every bit as good as 129. Because of the Butler County Regional Highway (129) Liberty Township is changing from a country refuge into a suburban utopia luring the affluent from all around the country to one of the best locations in the country to live. To my eyes there is good and bad with that. I don’t care for the traffic, but I like the innovation that comes with development.image

Many are concerned that the traffic in front of Cabela’s and the new Liberty Way will be ominous. These are major shopping destinations that typically have eight lane roads handling all the activity. But the design is all part of the new design of these retail establishments—where the challenge is to handle all the people while still looking like a small town community. After all, that is the appeal of Liberty Township and West Chester. You get everything you would expect from a big city as far as commercial application of development, without all the noise and headache. The spirit of the land is and will always be country—even with all the affluence. I still see it the way I always did, even as I stood in the Cabela’s parking lot thinking of days where that exact location seemed so far away from civilization with the exception of I-75 nearby.   Back in those days Tylersville Road was like the last outpost of Cincinnati before getting to Dayton, with the only exception of Middletown which was like a small oasis between the two big cities. After Tylersville Road there wasn’t much development, there was actually concern about having enough gas to get to the next supplier.image

Once just north of Franklin I was pulled over by a helicopter cop for doing 111 MPH and I wasn’t really trying very hard. There wasn’t much traffic or buildings around for reference. The cop saw that I had so much legal trouble that they actually cut me a break, because my license was about to point out under suspension from the multitude of speeding tickets I had—which took about three months to process through the system—in pre-Internet days. The helicopter actually landed in the median of I-75 because that was the only vehicle that could catch up to me back then. But the cops in the helicopter were happy to have something daring to do during their shift and I was pretty well known—so they were content to send me off without making things worse for me—which was nice. There was a little bit of Hazzard County politics to the region back then, which I always appreciated, and many old timers are afraid of that going away with all these new developments. But to my eyes, Cabela’s understands the area—which is why they put the store where they did. They appeared to me to want to give the area more of the character it has always had, not to take it away.image

Yet if I had the opportunity as a kid to trade that bit of land for the hiking opportunities it provided, or in having a Cabela’s where I can buy just about anything for the outdoors that I could dream of, and then travel to some really nice outdoor destinations for real adventure—I would pick in less than a second to have the Cabela’s. From Liberty Township, the Great Lakes are not that far away. Cumberland Lake, Lake Nolan and many other southern destinations known for fishing and boating are an equal number of miles to the south. To the east is the great Hocking Hills and between those places and the new Cabela’s are many hundreds of smaller destinations great for outdoorsman. But what’s better is the concentration of wealth in the area that allows Cabela’s to stock unusual items that they might not be able to afford to carry in less affluent areas.image

There have been a lot of complaints that Bass Pro has went downhill over the last couple of years—particularly in the fishing lure selection and price. They really haven’t had a direct competitor and they have been located in a declining area—economically. The Cincinnati Mills location is a dead mall mismanaged by the governments of Forest Park and Fairfield who assumed twenty years ago that they could raise taxes, bring in government housing, and not expect to push away the wealth that made them great areas at one time. Again, when I was a kid I spent a lot of time at Surf Cincinnati, which was located in Forest Park, just down the highway from the current Bass Pro Shop. There are such poor quality people in the region now, that a Surf Cincinnati wouldn’t be possible in that same area now. It’s not race that I’m talking about, it’s those willing to build wealth as opposed to those who just want to leech off it. This has put Bass Pro in a terrible position and it shows in their stock of inventory.

To support them I buy what I can from Bass Pro. As I announced recently, I bought my new .500 Magnum from them even though it probably cost me $150 more to do so, and I bought recently a gun cleaning kit that I could have bought at Dick’s for about $5 less. I bought at Bass Pro because I wanted to support them, and because I wanted to show my grandson the gigantic fish tank and grab something to eat in front of it. They opened Bass Pro hoping to have a major impact on the region, which has been extremely positive. But not enough to offset the bad decisions of local government during the past—so for Bass Pro’s own survival, they need to move to West Chester. The same customers can come as those who went to the Forest Park location, but new people who avoided the Forest Park region will explode their business. That will not only help Bass Pro, but outdoor enthusiasts like me who want to give them money, and encourage them to carry inventory they might not otherwise stock for fear of overloading their shelves—because eventually someone will buy that uniquely colored fishing lure—because they are getting ready to fly to Canada on a pontoon plane to spend a week on one of their many lakes far removed from civilization.

Others are concerned that there won’t be enough economic horse power to sustain Cabela’s, Dicks at Liberty Center, and Bass Pro at Union Center. I know by instinct that there is more than enough. But Cabela’s has run the numbers, they know the demographics of the area they built-in, which is why they are selling boats and pontoons—which is unusual for them. They know the market demographics are there, which was obvious upon putting my eyes on the merchandise when first entering. It’s the little things that confirm it—which is why it was a paradise for me.

I recently had the privilege of visiting the Field & Stream store in Crescent Springs and it was wonderful, but had a bit of the tired look of the Bass Pro in Forest Park. That is because the market demographics can’t support all the cool little nuances that come to affluent areas. It was a nice store, had a good price on ammunition, but looked like they were holding back on their inventory out of concern of not being able to sell it. That was not the case in the Cabela’s at West Chester. It was gloriously stocked and ready to supply a community hungry for what they offered. And for me, lasting just a small time during a mid-morning excursion, all was right in the world. I was at Cabela’s and they spared no expense!

Rich Hoffman


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