One of the most striking aspects of the interior of Cabela's new store in Anchorage -- scheduled to open on April 10 -- is the many mounted specimens of Alaska game, ranging from a pair of bull moose facing off in the entryway to the ptarmigan on the back wall.
"We got the caribou from the Nelchina herd. We got the wolves from Fairbanks," said tour-guide and co-manager Josh Anderson. "We got the Piper Cub from Lake Hood."
The yellow plane on floats is suspended from the ceiling of the wide center aisle along with life-size models of beluga whales, flanked by dioramas of bears, walrus and other Alaska critters.
The store just off C Street, at 155 W. 104th Ave., will be the 53rd outlet in the giant retailer's rapidly expanding chain. There were 37 stores when plans for the first Alaska location were announced in July 2012. The company expects to build more than 20 more stores in the next two years, Anderson said.
The building and its 11 acre site are appraised by the municipality at $18.5 million.
On Thursday, members of the news media got an early peek at the completed emporium as employees -- Cabela's calls them "outfitters" -- in khaki shirts and black pants (and some in jeans) stocked shelves and underwent training. Anderson said the store has hired about 280 people.
At 100,000 square feet, the Anchorage store falls in the mid-range of Cabela's facilities, a so-called "next generation" store, half the size of the giant "legacy" stores and twice the size of the smaller "outpost" outlets. Nonetheless, its inventory includes most of what customers would find in a legacy store: camping supplies, outdoor apparel, food preparation equipment, ammunition, supplies for hunting dogs, game cameras, hiking gear, ghillie suits and forests of fishing rods.
It also has a few things unique to Alaska. Anderson pointed out the dip nets, shrimp and crab pots, clam guns and bear bait (flavors range from bacon to raspberry jelly donut) as items not found in Cabela's stores in the Lower 48. "I think there's only one other store that has a Piper Cub on display," Anderson said.
If it's not on the shelves, Alaskans can order from the company catalog and pick up their purchases at the Anchorage store without a shipping charge. Anderson said he didn't think there were any exceptions to that policy. There's also a bush orders department.
Poring over Alaska catalog orders from the past 50 years helped guide decisions about the store inventory, he said.
The store strives to be more than a shopping spot. It includes a cafe and fudge shop. Specialty foods include wild boar sandwiches, specialty coffee, sausage, syrup and salmon from Copper River Seafoods.
The average Cabela's customer spends three hours in the store, Anderson said. It would probably take that long just to find all the stuffed animals or -- as in the case of the belugas and some bald eagles -- replicas.
The main aisle leads to "Conservation Mountain," where Alaska animals share space with Lower 48 species like pronghorn antelope, turkeys and a rattlesnake. In a walk-through cave under the mountain is a story-high aquarium stocked with silver salmon, trout, grayling, whitefish and other local fish. Most came from Alaska hatcheries and stocked lakes, Anderson said, "So they've been born and bred on pellets their whole life."
Some dioramas are posed in a lively fashion. A cougar is frozen in mid-leap from a tree. A pack of wolves races toward caribou, who have turned to face the canines.
All of these displays had to be either shot or trapped, and there were plenty of supplies for both activities on display on Thursday. Guns take up a big part of the space. Familiar Brownings and Marlins, shotguns, airguns, rifles. But the true aficionado will want to take a meander through the Gun Library.
Anderson called it "the most gorgeous room in the building," though not quite as sumptuous as the Gun Libraries in some bigger Cabela's. Nonetheless, this is the place you turn for an expensive European shotgun or a pre-1900 Colt revolver. The most expensive piece on display was a Remington 700 rifle with built-in sights that incorporate computer and camera technology. The price, $4,999.
"We have access to more," said Paul Harris, who was working in the room on Thursday, "up to $13,000."
Cabela's plan is to offer a wide array of prices, Anderson said. "We try to cater to all levels of shoppers with products we consider good, better and best."
For example, over in the fishing gear section, Elmer Webster picked up a fly rod with a price tag of more than $1,000 and described the subtle qualities that make it desirable for an expert angler, how it recovers from a cast, the sensitivity of the tip, the weight and feel. But he also noted that complete fly kits -- rod, reel, line, etc. -- were available for less than $70. "That will work fine for someone starting out," he said. "But some folks just want the best."
What the Anchorage store doesn't have is a full-blown power sports department, Anderson said. There are snowmachine covers and ATV trailers ("meat wagons"), but no snowmachines, ATVs or boats, aside from a few light kayaks. In the bigger Cabela's locations, power boats occupy a significant footprint.
One thing the store will share the sites in the Lower 48 and Canada is a lot of parking. Anderson said he expects RV travelers to flock to the store. "Come back here in the summer and you'll see 'em."
Reach Mike Dunham at firstname.lastname@example.org or 257-4332.
NOTE: An earlier version of this story incorrectly said the Cabela's story would open April 11 instead of the correct date, April 10.
By MIKE DUNHAM
Alaska Dispatch Publishing