If you aren’t into huntin’ and fishin’ like I am–along with the majority of Montanans, I might add–you might not know about Cabelas’s, so let’s start there.
Cabela’s is the superstore of all superstores for people who hunt and fish. People like me have “Cabela’s problems” and need support groups. Cabela’s fans drive hundreds of miles to the nearest store and spend hundreds of dollars on every trip. Once in there, we can’t get out until our spouses threaten divorce or at least to drive home by themselves. As the lights start to go out, clerks come up and say, “Sir, we’re closing now. You have to leave. We can call you a cab.”
Cabela’s stores run about 132,000 square feet, which is larger than some Wal-Mart Supercenters, and bring 200 good-paying jobs into a community, not counting want comes in through satellite development. Such a store automatically becomes an economic windfall for a small community, and Cabela’s often goes into small towns. It’s actually more than a retail store; it’s a tourist destination with gun libraries, displays of trophy racks and fish tanks full of lunkers.
For people like me, though, it’s an economic disaster. Each store has hundreds of thousands of SKUs for things like walleye jigs, .50 caliber cartridges, bass tubes, and camo butt warmers, but not one single item I need. But that little problem won’t even slow me down. As soon as I get access to a nearby Cabela’s, a huge percentage of my disposable income will disappear there. And the problem compounds. I spend so much money at Cabela’s that I have to work harder to make more money, which means I have less time to go out and use all the gadgets and gear I buy there.
Well, finally, it seems, Cabela’s is coming to Montana. Save your money. About two years from now, you’ll need it.
For years, I’ve been calling Cabela’s and asking store employees when they are coming to Montana, which seems like a terrific market for the country’s largest outdoor gear company. The Big Sky State is outdoor gaga.
No plans, I was repeatedly told, as I watched with despair as the new store opening announcements came out–Wheat Ridge, Colorado, Wheeling, Wyoming, Lehi, Utah, Boise, Idaho, among the last three, all shots in the heart for me. Then, I started hearing persistent rumors about Cabela’s going in along I-90 west of Bozeman, somewhere between Belgrade and the U.S. 287 junction. Both Three Forks and Manhattan have been rumored to be the sites.
Hoping it was true, I called Cabela’s again and talked to James Powell, who was a friendly, good news/bad news sort of guy. “Yes,” he said, Cabela’s is coming to Montana, “but not in the short term.” He said they were currently evaluating sites, but would not reveal which ones.
“We are in an aggressive expansion right now, and we agree that Montana is a very sportsman friendly state,” Powell said. “Montana is definitely a state we want to put a store in, but currently we have no plans to do so in the next one or two years.”
I’m hoping that means a deal is almost signed, and the store opens two years and one day from now.
“With a retailer like us, it’s a variety of factors,’ Powell explained. “It has to be the right market. Finding the right location takes a lot of research. We just haven’t found the right place yet in Montana to make it feasible.”
What makes it feasible? Cabela’s puts that on its website. New stores go into locations with these characteristics:
- A minimum of 28-30 acres, 40-100 acres is preferred;
- Have excellent “frontage” and are visible from an interstate highway;
- Draw on a market of at least one million people within in 30-mile radius.
- Set up for a new building instead of a remodel of an existing structure.
- A few incentives always help.
Three Forks fits that profile. Might have to stretch the 30-mile radius a bit to get a million people, but if you could the people driving by on the freeway like Cabela’s has to justify it’s Mitchell, South Dakota store, it comes close. In reality, this site can draw from Bozeman, Belgrade, Butte and Helena as well as many small communities–and not counting people like me who will drive hundreds of miles to shop three.
You can’t blame Cabela’s for being tight with their plans. The company has to get all property purchases, leases signed, etc. before the official news hits the street. Otherwise, speculation drives prices up.
I made some calls down there and talked to two people in the Three Forks area who confirmed that Cabela’s reps have been in the area looking at sites in Belgrade/Manhattan/Three Forks corridor. Nonetheless, consider this article an advanced rumor–or in my case, advanced wishful thinking–but you know what they say about rumors. They’re only premature facts.