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Southridge Cabela's ready to roar to life

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Yep. It's big. And it holds a lot of stuff.

Cabela's officials on Tuesday gave local media an advance peek at their new Charleston store, and revealed that the 80,000-square-foot facility contains nearly as many retail items as their gigantic 120,000-square-foot megastore in Wheeling.

"All told, we'll have 70,000 [stock-keeping unit] numbers in inventory here," said store manager Matt Leary. "That's almost the same SKU count as Wheeling."

Leary said the Charleston store can hold that many items in two-thirds the floor space because its display areas have been modified.

"The gondolas -- the shelf and pegboard units that hold the items -- are narrower than the ones in Wheeling," he explained. "We can fit more gondolas onto a smaller floor space and still maintain nice, roomy aisles."

As always, Cabela's architects have designed the store to make customers look around and say, "Wow!" as they enter through the doors.

The glass-walled front entrance contains a dramatic taxidermy display that depicts a grizzly bear and a mountain lion snarling at one another over a mule deer carcass. High on the walls on either side are taxidermy displays dedicated to elk and black bears. A mounted bison head hangs nearby.

"That's for the Marshall folks," joked Chris Walls, Cabela's special-events coordinator.

A central aisle under a vaulted ceiling leads to a mountainous diorama that contains trophy mounts of all of North America's big-game species. High overhead, the aisle's walls feature mini dioramas of dramatic wildlife scenes, backed by painted murals that give the taxidermy a sense of place.

"In all, we have 243 pieces of taxidermy in the store," Walls said. "One guy -- Paul Manktelow -- painted all of the backdrops. He did every one of them by hand, without templates."

To the side of the big-game mountain sits a 4,500-gallon aquarium stocked with bluegills, bass, carp and baitfish. Walls said it eventually would hold several more fish species, all native to West Virginia.

All told, there are 12 separate retail areas under the building's soaring roof.

"We have a gun area, an archery area, a fishing area, a fly-fishing area, a camping area, a footwear area, a hunting accessories area, a power sports area for marine motors and [all-terrain vehicles], an apparel area with camouflage and casual clothing for both men and women, a gun library, a gift area and a deli area," store manager Leary said.

The store wasn't originally supposed to carry ATVs, but Cabela's officials included one when they learned that a major trailhead for the nationally renowned Hatfield-McCoy Trail was located just 15 miles down the highway.

Leary said the chain's retail experts also modified the fishing-tackle inventory to reflect local tastes.

"We found out that a lot of people in the area are really into muskie fishing, so we increased our inventory in that area," he added.

Cabela's officials also expanded the fly-fishing and fly-tying inventory after they discovered that Charleston is home to one of the nation's largest Trout Unlimited chapters.

Wherever possible, the store's designers paid tribute to the store's West Virginia location. For example, a mural reminiscent of the state's mountain highlands serves as the backdrop for the store's display of trophy white-tailed bucks. The store's deli and fudge shop -- where customers will be able to purchase bison, wild boar or smoked elk sandwiches as well as several varieties of fudge -- is called Sugar Maple Café in honor of the official state tree.

About 200 people have been hired to staff the store, and Leary said more would be hired before it opens.

"I don't know where the top end [for staff size] is," he added.

Roughly 60 percent of the employees are local. Leary said the remaining 40 percent were brought in from Cabela's 35 other stores.

"A lot of people wanted to transfer here," Leary said. "This store was a hot commodity within the Cabela's system. The Wheeling store has a great reputation among company employees, and people figured Charleston would be a lot like Wheeling."

The Charleston facility extended the Cabela's corporate footprint farther into the southeast portion of the country than it's been before.

"We think this store has the potential to draw people from as far away as North Carolina and eastern Tennessee," Leary said. "We think people down there will be curious to find out what Cabela's is about, and we think some of them will be willing to drive three or four hours to shop here once they know we're open."

Leary expects the local clientele to be huge, especially in the weeks immediately after the store's Aug. 9-12 grand opening.

"Our people have already met with Charleston and South Charleston police to coordinate traffic flow. We've made a number of contingency plans. If there's a way to improve the flow and make it better for our customers, we will," he said.

Leary, a Clarksburg native, said he personally feels excited to help open a store in his home state.

"It's definitely exciting to offer something like this to the folks who live around here," he said. "These are salt-of-the-earth people, and they deserve to have the a place like this to shop for their outdoor gear."

Reach John McCoy at johnmccoy@wvgazette.com or 304-348-1231.


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