Cory Farley, voted "Best of Reno" 26 times in 27 years by readers of his column in the Reno Gazette-Journal, takes an unconventional look at topics from presidential elections to the best way to cook Brussels sprouts.

Location: Verdi, Nev, United States

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Cabela's a bust for Boomtown?

The Reno City Council, or at least that portion of it that's still buying the All-Growth-Is-Good argument that was so relevant in the 18th century, may have found another way to undermine its own ideology with the giveaways that brought Cabela's to Verdi.
"It's been really slow," a Boomtown employee said this week. "Cabela's hasn't done nearly what we expected."
For those who think "a Cabela's" means to sing without accompaniment, here's a refresher: Cabela's is a large, Midwest-based supplier of mostly hunting and fishing gear. It's not a sporting goods store in the stick-and-ball sense, but if your outdoor interests run to blood sports, you can find the implements you'll need to take down everything from bluegill to Cape buffalo.
Don't read a value judgment into this; I'm not making one. I've already spent a couple of hundred dollars in the Verdi store. For my everyday outdoor needs, though, I'll stick with REI.
To entice Cabela's to Reno, the City Council cut a deal. I've forgotten the details, and they aren't important enough here to look them up; it was pretty much a standard business-government accommodation, involving tax breaks, annexation (against the wishes of most Verdi residents including--full disclosure--me) and favorable zoning, all based, if memory serves, on a projection of about 4 million customers a year.
That seemed, at first, a doable number (I know "doable" isn't a real word, but it fits here). Cabela's is a huge draw among people among whom it's a huge draw. I pulled into the parking lot of the store in Sidney, Neb., at 6:30 on a Tuesday morning a few years ago, and there were nearly 400 people waiting for the doors to open,
Then the projections began to slide. Last time I read about it, a year or so ago, I think it was down to 2.5 million (see previous comment about specifics). A highly-placed city official, unnamed here for the same reason the Boomtown employee is unnamed, told me he was thinking of asking the Council to reconsider its deal.
By then they were moving dirt, though, and the colony of yellow-bellied marmots that's entertained generations of Verdi kids had been paved over, and the city official kept his mouth shut. So now we have a store.
Government did what it could to pump the thing up. For a week before it opened, for instance, highway signs notified drivers that "EVENT PARKING" should use Exit 4. Nobody in my neighborhood, a mile from the Exit 4, knew what event they were talking about, but it certainly generated interest that wouldn't have been there otherwise.
I went up on opening weekend, and it was busy but not jammed. The following week I passed through again, and I saw lots of shoppers but, I thought, relatively few buyers.
Yesterday, Monday, I went in to buy some hiking socks and wandered through the place. There were people looking at the mounted animals (taxidermy, not demonstrations of breeding habits) and admiring the fish in the big aquarium, but in the checkout line I had only about a one-minute wait, and the two customers ahead of me covered their purchases with single $20 bills.
Done with that, I walked over to Boomtown to buy a San Francisco paper and pick up a cup of coffee. That's where I met the employee, who saw my Cabela's bag and revealed what I have no reason to doubt: At least for now, at least for Boomtown, Cabela's is a bust. The marmots died in vain.
"No help at all?" I asked. "Those stores draw a lot of people."
"Maybe a little in the restaurant," he said. "I guess they're not gamblers."


Blogger Mike said...

A Cabela store opened not too far from my home here in Arizona. I went and checked it out a few weeks ago. To many dead things for my tastes. But It was so busy with a lot of bubbas and their women. What I was somewhat surprised about is that all of the men were so very out of shape. So there is a difference between sporting goods stores. One for those who participate in a sport and one who shoots things. Yes there is camping gear too, but camping as far as I can tell when I have gone is just another excuse for people to get drunk. But this store does draw the crowds. We have a much larger base from which to draw that does Reno/Sparks.

11:47 AM  
Blogger tuzoner said...


Maybe if Cabela's mounted the heads of the city council members that approved the project within the store; emphasized demonstrations of the breeding habits of the local species; and then posted signs along the highway that said: "EVENT PARKING - BEHEADING OF THE QUEEN - LIVE AT NOON" that might bring in some additional foot traffic.

Note: The queen would be the then mayor of course.

Disclosure: This posting is deemed satire.

12:00 PM  
Blogger ReconRanger said...

I cruised through Cabela's the second weekend after it opened and was struck dumb. "Wow," I said to myself, "this is just like a Sportsman's Warehouse with stuffed animals and an aquarium. How dumb.

Cabela's says the average stay in their store is three and a half hours. I don't know who would do that, but it took me about 20 minutes of dawdler-dodging to determine that Cabela's had nothing I couldn't get closer to home.

I'm assuming that the folks who run Cabela's are smarter than I am, but with another store slated for Sparks, Bass Pro Shops going in at the foot of Mount Rose and Sportsman's Warehouse pretty much in the center of town, who (other than someone in Verdi - you know who you are) is going to drive to Boomtown for a pair of sox, some fish hooks and a box of .45 ACP?

I wonder what they will eventually do with the empty building?

2:00 PM  
Blogger polackjoe said...

Haven't been out there yet, but plan to before the holidays. I'm not a hunter/fisherman/camper, so there really isn't a big draw for me there. As reconranger said, I don't know that I'd drive out there for what I could get in town anyway.

2:31 PM  
Blogger Justin said...


I was there last week (on a Wednesday morning) and a quick scan of the parking lot revealed that at least 75% of the cars had California plates. Cabelas draws shoppers from all over NorCal and Northern Nevada. Although they are obviously different, I liken it to my bi-annual pilgrimage to Ikea in West Sac. It's more about the experience (something not everyone appreciates) It's not necessarily for locals as much as it is another piece of the puzzle that comprises what our area has to offer to tourists. Still, I think Scheel's is going to outdo Cabela's by far. It's 2x the size. It will have a Ferris wheel, a larger aquarium, a diner, etc.

4:54 PM  
Blogger Unknown said...

A few things should be noted;
a) there was no zone change for Cabela's
b) the property was annexed long before Cabela's came
c) No one in Verdi (Cory included)was annexed
d) If Cabela's doesn't bring the sales in, THEY lose the money. They ONLY get back with sales tax that comes through their doors. No sales tax, no money. The people of Reno are NOT on the hook.

9:03 PM  
Blogger Rick said...

I've been a real fan of the clothes via the catalog for years but am not a hunter either. I picked up $20 worth of snacks, waited in line 10 minutes to pay, put it down and walked out. They should have all registers manned during grand opening/holiday season I think. I don't think this area is as hunter oriented as some other areas. I did think the machine gun BB guns were cool though- at least the 10 year old somewhere deep inside did. I will have to go to REI and use my dividend.

9:40 PM  
Blogger Norby said...

Whether or not it'll be a success is yet to be seen. But don't forget, this isn't exactly Hunting/Fishing/Caming season right now.
That large retailers who are very cautious about opening outlets are willing to open in Reno is a good thing. And giving Cali's another reason to bypass the indian casinos and go all the way over the hill can't hurt either.

9:43 PM  
Blogger mindervillain said...

I haven't had a hunting or fishing license in over 30 years but I've always liked Cabela's catelog and have bought a few things from them.

I was passing through Nebraska some years ago and stopped at the Sidney store. It was like shopping in a theme park, with the whole store designed to look outdoorsy.

I was in Reno today and stopped off at Cabela's to have a look. Maybe Nebraska and Disneyland have somehow merged in my mind, but compared to my memory of the Sidney store, it appears that Cabela's, in their expansion over the years, has started mailing it in. Instead of walking into a theme park dedicated to the great outdoors, I walked into a warehouse, not too unlike Costco, with what looked like a trucked in aquarium pushed off into one corner, a dumb little hill with animals pushed against the back wall like it was for sale, and another mound with more animals somewhere near the middle of the store. All of them looked like small stage sets that perhaps could be wheeled from place to place, and maybe even wheeled onto a truck and hauled off to some other town and some other theme store on a moment's notice.

Aside from that, it was just another warehouse store, except with more employees (seemingly about three for every customer), none of whom seemed to be doing much of anything. Customer service had six stations, five of them empty. The single representative was taking her time with a customer while seven hopefuls waited in line.

Checkout was likewise a leisurely process - the lines seemed short, but the clerks were exceptionally casual about getting folks out.

I'll shop again at Cabela's when I'm in Reno - a few times, anyway. But the whole place gives the impression of portability; if it doesn't work out here (and, as others have mentioned, there's some indication that it might not), a few trucks and in a few days the whole joint can become another vacant building.

11:53 PM  
Blogger Mike W. said...

Cory: I'm glad to see you haven't put the pen in the drawer since your departure from FGJ. I'll state my bias up front that I'm not a fan of Cabela's or the sports for which they target their merchandise (I'm definitely a carnivore, however). Winter is not the best time to assess the success this store may have in the long run, much like evaluating Bobo's (primarily a ski shop) would be in June. However, I wonder if the powers that be figured the rising cost of gas in their projections. Auto-driven tourism began declining in northern California since 9/11 and the high cost of gas has only exacerbated that trend, especially among the lower part of the middle class. Although there are a lot of wealthy hunters and anglers, the majority of their practitioners make up the lower end of the economic scale. When fishing season arrives, it will be interesting to see if the store hits their projections or not. As far as the sweetheart deal Cabela's got from the Reno government, what else is new? How often do groups with a ton of money not get what they want from the Reno City Council?

6:57 AM  
Blogger DrSparks said...

I took my son (11 years old) there Thanksgiving Sunday. We're not big outdoors types, but enjoyed looking around and saw a lot of others doing the same. Sure, there were buyers, but like CF noticed, very short lines at the registers and few overflowing carts.

The very high quality clothes were matched by very high prices...not too many deals available. The $72 shirts would probably last 10 years.

One thing we did buy and enjoy greatly...the fudge!

7:52 AM  
Blogger ReconRanger said...

Well, for what it's worth, I know a guy who knows the guy who shot the elephant that's now stuffed and on display in Cabela's.

OK, that probably needs to be filed under "so what?"

8:46 AM  
Blogger tuzoner said...

I'm with Cory on this one: Even though we don't have a REI store here in Tucson, AZ (not yet at least - the closest one is in Phoenix) I can still shop there online.

REI has the best combination of value, price, and quality IMHO.

9:14 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

It's getting a lot harder to fight the good fight, when our elected officials keep dumbing themselves down. Common sense is getting to be an endangered species here in Reno. As with CF's amusing stories of rampant growth throughout the years, our exalted leaders just don't get it. I think Boomtowns proposed theme park from a few years ago probably would have been better than Cabelas, they could then use those "event parking" signs. After Sparks ruins the marina with all their exciting new plans, I guess we will almost have come full circle.

11:00 AM  
Blogger Justin said...

Just what this town needs, a bunch off ill-informed, quick to judge NIMBYs who think they know it all. Growth is not always the enemy. I can't help but feel that if some of you had your way, Reno would be a ghost town. If Reno ever hopes to once again become a top tier tourist destination it has to grow. I'm all for responsible growth, but I swear to God, no matter what construction project comes up, there's always a group out there who is against it, if for no other reason than they are simply against change.

On a side note, how the hell is the Legends project going to "ruin" the Sparks Marina? Sure, I can see why some aren't thrilled w/ living next to a hotel/casino, but it's not as if this people bought those houses w/ privacy and wide open spaces in mind. Afterall, the houses there are literally 6' apart and are located next to a high density apartment complex and small mixed-use building with retail/dining. The Legends project sounds terrific and should compliment the area nicely.

4:08 PM  
Blogger Scott said...

Glad you can write without being censored by the RGJ. Now we really know how you feel!
Keep it up.

5:47 PM  
Blogger mindervillain said...

I agree, growth is not "always the enemy," but given the inherent greed rampant among developers, a healthy skepticism is not just necessary, but is a requirement for those of us who live near one of their creations, and will still be around when the developers move on to someone elses backyard.

7:34 PM  
Blogger ReconRanger said...

How interesting to hear Justin and et. al. lament about growth and change.

Weren't we taking about the viability of Cabela's as a business and whether they would survive as such.

Zot...change channel.

Damn those NIMBY'S.

8:43 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I've only been in Reno since the early 1980's, so I guess I moved here after Reno was a "top tier tourist destination". You have to have first attained that status before you can reach it again. I would just like to know where all the water is coming from to support the growth. Doesn't really matter what kind of growth we are talking about, if we don't have the water to support it. Agree with reconranger about straying away from the Cabela story, but I think CF was just getting our juices flowing encoraging dialogue.

10:20 AM  
Blogger Justin said...

Yes, it was before the 1980's, lol. Roughly a half-century ago (give or take a couple decades), Reno was the top tier gaming destination in the United States. In cities and towns back East, such as Sandusky, Ohio where my grandparents are from, there used to be signs that read "Reno or Bust". Downtown Reno was bustling with activity, and according to many who were around at the time, rivaled even big cities such as New York in terms of the number of people on the street per square foot. It's so easy to forget due to Las Vegas' rampant growth, but Reno is the birthplace of modern casino gaming, and the for better or worse, the quickie divorce. Reno was also a popular hangout for many celebrities and politicians (e.g. Marily Monroe, Clark Gable, Sinatra, Sammy Davis Jr., Senator Joseph McCarthy, President Harry Truman, etc.) And it was Reno that was host to many big boxing matches that now take place in Las Vegas. The MGM Grand Hotel & Casino (now GSR) was, in 1978, the most expensive and opulent hotel/casino ever built. It still has the largest moveable stage in the world. Reno truly was the biggest little city in the world. Now we're just Boise with casinos.

End of apologies for straying off topic. :)

2:35 PM  
Blogger David D. said...

When Boomtown's management decided to replace its truck stop operation with a Cabella's outlet, it was like Cinderella deciding to swap her glass slippers for a pair of combat boots. Whomever the genius was that decided to give the boot to the truckers that built Boomtown might as well have given a hysterectomy to the Golden Goose. The real story here is not what Cabella's didn't do for Boomtown and Reno, but, rather, what Boomtown did to itself and its employees.

9:51 AM  
Blogger Bob said...

Wow Cory,
Can we say Tree Hugger? Did you only print other tree hugger comments? I bet you voted for Chairman Obama. Cabella's is one of the biggest retailers for all outdoor gear, everything from soup to nuts. I have been buying my fishing tackle from mail order since I was a boy. They sell only the best outdoor clothing, and have plenty of stuff for all you tree hugger socialist ingrates!

9:58 PM  
Blogger Unknown said...

Excellent post.! I love everything at Cabela's Outlet Stores it is a fun place to walk around..!!

2:31 AM  

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