Scheels - Sportsman Attraction
Early post card scientists once theorized that novel wildlife, your Jackalope or Fur-bearing Trout, were the inevitable spawn of intimate interspecies contact. Those improbable romances are no longer needed. In today's biology labs it's just a matter of analysis and genetics to make a unique monstrosity.
So are today's mutant "big box" outdoorsman stores the offspring of true love, or scientific calculation? We've checked out Bass Pro Shops and Cabela's, with their indoor taxidermy mountains and tourist trappings wrapped around retail sales. Scheels has all that, and takes it to the next nutso level.
Scheels is a huge and successful sports retail chain spread across eight states with 23 stores. We visited their "World's Largest All Sports Store" in Sparks, Nevada. It's the only place we've been where we could buy a gun, ride a Ferris Wheel, sample fudge, then listen to animatronic U.S. Presidents give speeches.
The Sparks Scheels, at 295,000 square feet, inhabits its own large, mall-like structure, surrounded by parking to accommodate vehicles of all sizes. If you're pulling a double tandem of dead deer, you'll find a space.
Outside the building entrance stand four heroic-scale bronze figures. There's the gravity-defying snowboarder, the nimble mountain biker, the stream fisherman, the hunter with his antler-laden backpack. Our new hero-gods, on vacation from Mount Olympus.
Like its brethren elsewhere, the Sparks Scheels sells hunting and fishing gear, hiking and camping equipment, sports footwear and pretty much anything for the active outdoor life. Maybe that's what most visitors are here for (marketing planworking!).
But not us. We spot their two 16,000 gallon aquariums (one freshwater and one saltwater) and the indoor mountain with hundreds of mounted wildlife -- elk, bear, goats. The shooting range looks popular, but it's also no longer a novelty in outdoorsman superstores.
We're looking for the more startling anomalies:
1. Ferris Wheel
A restored 1921 Ferris Wheel dominates the center of the store. Its 65-feet-tall, costs a dollar to ride, and is the largest in the company's history (some of its other stores have Ferris wheels, naturally). George Ferris, who invented the amusement park marvel in 1893, lived nearby in Carson City, NV. Scheels has created a small "Ferris Wheel Museum" in the store by the main checkout registers.
2. Walk of Presidents
The Walk of Presidents is on the second floor, spaced along a balcony rail that loops the center atrium. There are 14 Presidents -- the selection seems to be those judged by history as beloved or iconic (no chance that the great sportsman, Teddy Roosevelt, would be left out).
When a visitor trips a motion sensor, Lincoln and Jefferson (both animated) and the rest start speechifying. Depending on how crowded it is, you may have to lean in close to understand what they're saying. The wax heads are recognizable, though some of the U.S. leaders are just as easy to peg by their accessories: Reagan's cowboy hat, Ike's WWII general uniform, FDR's fireside chat radio mike.
Other details are more intriguing. Lincoln sits in a marble throne, like his DC memorial; George Washington's face is meticulously pocked with old smallpox scars. Teddy Roosevelt is forced to forever face the store's fake mountain of wildlife taxidermy.
John F. Kennedy wins the prime spot, in our estimation -- photographers can cross-hair his head at the center of the Ferris wheel spokes.
Should've spotted it on the way in, but we were blinded by the Ferris Wheel. The fudge shop on the main floor offers 32 different flavors and samples. It's an experience enhancement to listen to the Presidents blather while eating delicious fudge. If you can be hurtling around the Ferris wheel at the same time well, there's nothing better.
Perhaps the lesson that Scheels wants to teach us is that freakishness is no longer a liability in retail, just as it never really was in the animal kingdom. Jackalopes and sports store fudge shops have always been beautiful. Only our perceptions have changed.