Round one of the duel of the dioramas opened in Anchorage on Wednesday when Bass Pro Shops swung wide the doors on its first and only store in the lone U.S. state with no bass.
No matter the latter. The country's largest outdoor retailer doesn't sell fish. It sells fishing gear, boats, hunting equipment, camping essentials, clothing and more. Its new, 80,000-square-foot store just off the Glenn Highway is chockablock full of the stuff.
That's not all. Like the 100,000-square-foot Cabela's that opened in South Anchorage in April, Bass Pro's faux log outpost features animals -- dozens and dozens of dead animals and depictions of animals.
Where huge, plastic renderings of beluga whales hang over the entryway of Cabela's to greet customers, Bass Pro is countering with flocks of geese soaring against a mural-blue sky full of white clouds sweeping over mountain scenery, with stuffed caribou and Dall sheep peering down at customers.
Both stores trumpet their shopping "experience" and claim customers come not just to buy gear but to savor the atmosphere. You can get close to the fish in their aquariums. And the bears in both stores are prime examples of the taxidermist's art, not to mention nowhere near as dangerous as the wild Anchorage bears that have mauled two people in the area in the last two months.
Nationally, shoppers can be found debating the merits and demerits of the giants of big-box outdoors. Bass Pro is a privately-traded company with revenues Forbes magazine estimates at $4 billion per year. Cabela's is a publicly-traded company with revenues reported at $3.2 billion.
Both have roots in the flatlands -- Bass Pro in Springfield, Mo., and Cabela's in Sydney, Neb. The two companies have engaged in head-to-head competition with store additions in major outdoor markets across the country. Bass Pro now has 58 stores spread across the continent, Cabela's has 50.
Smaller competitors have suffered as the giants battled in many of these markets. The same is expected in Anchorage, although some retailers are optimistic they can weather the assault.
"We're still here and looks like we will be," said John Staser of Mountain View Sports in Midtown, which began decades ago in a space within spitting distance of Bass Pro Shops. "Took a big hit initially but sales are starting to recover. People are beginning to realize that Cabela's doesn't equate to quality or price savings, just another box store that really pushes their credit card and their own brand, which is where they make money."
And now it has a fellow big-box competitor with which to wrestle.
Contact Craig Medred at craig(at)alaskadispatch.com