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Thousands attend Cabela's opening

By Megan Workman

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Teresa Stone said she had one thought after waiting 27 hours to walk into a Cabela's store for the first time: "I can't wait to get in there!"

Nearly 4,000 people waited in line to enter the new Cabela's store at Southridge in Charleston during the store's grand opening Thursday.

Customers and cars crowded the store's parking lot, which filled up so fast that employees used golf carts to drive customers who'd parked in a field behind the building up to the front doors.

Live music played under a tent while people waiting in line won free hats and T-shirts. Cabela's employees passed out bottles of water and portable hand fans.

Stone, of Charleston, and her friend Sandra Williams, of Cross Lanes, were the first customers in line at 8 a.m. Wednesday -- 27 hours before archer Tom Nelson stood on a ladder at the store's front and shot a clay pigeon with his bow and arrow to "cut the ribbon."

The pair spent a majority of the day hanging out and "parking lot stalking," Williams joked.

The two friends - with about 40 other eager Cabela's customers - dozed off in their lawn chairs Wednesday night in the store's parking lot.

"I just wanted to be the first person through the doors since I've never been in a Cabela's before," Stone said just before the grand opening.

She didn't just wait in line so long to tell her friends about it - the avid hiker also needed some new hiking shoes.

Stone and Williams' dedication didn't go unnoticed. Cabela's Chief Executive Officer Tommy Millner gave the women gift cards and T-shirts.

Millner said the store's grand opening had more people lined up earlier than any crowd at any of the previous 38 Cabela's grand openings. The large crowd waiting to shop inside the 80,000-square-foot store Thursday morning shows how Cabela's is a family to its customers, he said.

"When I got here at 7:30 a.m., there were 500 people in line and we had never seen that before," Millner said. "The number of people in West Virginia who go hunting, fishing and boating prove it's not a pastime. It's not a hobby. It's part of their life.

"By the looks of the crowd, it looks like we made the right decision coming to Charleston."

During the event, Charleston Mayor Danny Jones said the city is very grateful that Cabela's has finally arrived.

When the doors opened at 11 a.m., customers of all ages strolled in one by one. Shopping carts, strollers, wheelchairs and thousands of others walked past a couple hundred Cabela's employees who cheered and clapped as customers filed into the store.

Some customers stood in awe of the hand-painted, mural-sized backdrops on the walls while others, who were sweaty from the heat outside, appreciated the air conditioning.

Cabela's employee Laura Blackhurst, who started her shift at 5 a.m., was sweating a little herself during the grand opening because the huge crowds were "a little overwhelming."

"I'm excited because it's my first time opening a Cabela's store," Blackhurst said.

Cabela's officials have said that they expect the Charleston store to draw most of its customers from within a 150-mile radius, but might attract people from as far away as North Carolina and Tennessee.

Rick Mark traveled from Chillicothe, Ohio, to spend the day in the Mountain State. His father Dale Mark and a friend joined him. All are big-time hunters who got started in the line at 10 a.m. The trio planned to visit the Mardi Gras Casino & Resort after shopping inside the new store, Mark said.

Outside the store, Cabela's employees passed out free Nathan's hot dogs topped with buffalo chili, chips and drinks.

The grand opening continues Friday with American Archer's Tom Nelson meeting the public between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m. and professional bass fisherman Bill Lowen on hand from 2 p.m. to 6 p.m. The opening celebration continues until Sunday.

Reach Megan Workman at megan.workman@wvgazette.com or 304-348-5113


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