Cabela's: High Temple of Taxidermy
In 2003, Cabela's discovered a fresh hunting ground -- the East Coast. The "World's Foremost Outfitter" opened one of its stunning retail facilities within 2 1/2 hours of New York City and an hour northwest of Philadelphia, also targeting the outdoorsmen of the Poconos and eastern Pennsylvania. It is a Temple of Taxidermy, where hordes of visitors push shopping carts filled with hunting and fishing gear while admiring mounted, dead animals. Cabela's packs both barrels with an experience that connects with avid hunters and animal lovers....
The 250,000 square foot beige and green edifice gleams on a rise along I-78. In the morning, the huge parking lot started to fill even before the doors opened. Cabela's elsewhere have often become their respective state's No. #1 tourist attraction, and this one appears to be on the same trajectory...
Imagine an upscale retail store -- say, a Wegman's -- with its high ceilings, sparkly packaging, and air of consumer arousal. Add a craggy indoor mountain in the center of the store, lit by skylight. Then sprinkle, on the slopes and ledges of the mountain, dozens of deer, mountain goats, bear and moose. All dead, of course, but in as-if-alive poses. Cabela's has un-ironically labeled this "Conservation Mountain" (What's the military ops code name? Operation Furry Freedom?).
Conservation Mountain is the centerpiece exhibit in this and other Cabela's we've visited, and one can spend time simply circling its base and marveling at the frozen wildlife. Animal savagery scenes -- such as bears mauling a moose behind the mountain -- are not the first you see. But they aren't hidden either -- it's just the Natural Order of things.
The store's other large exhibits are strategically positioned in each corner to optimize crowd flow past the volumes of merchandise. Some highlights:
The Aquarium is a 55,000 gallon tank of living fish. We didn't dwell here for long.
The Africa Diorama has some gruesome touches on its simulated slice of the Serengeti. Two alligators tear apart a black wildebeest. A pride of lions chase down a panicked assortment of herd animals. Families proceed by each scene in hushed reverence, dreaming of their own safari....
Deer Country intersperses dioramas of deer prancing among fall foliage, or peering from woodsy swells. But before you get confused about the message here, there are two amazing rows of deer trophies -- some of the most famous mounted heads you will ever see, a veritable Hall of Fame. Under each trophy is a story clipped from a hunting magazine that explains the reasons you should be impressed.
Gun Library - With rifles arrayed around comfy chairs in a wood-paneled chamber, the Gun Library reminds us of a high-end audiophile salesroom, where $10,000 sound systems might be sampled. Here's where gun shoppers can gaze upon Cabela's collection of superior weaponry, cradle a rifle and fondle its finely machined contours.
The store's only been open for an hour, and already the Firearms checkout is crowded. There's also an indoor archery range, where you can try before you buy.
Kids can even learn to appreciate the hunting lifestyle -- mannequins display child-friendly gear. Atop a platform, youngsters practice training sighting scope cross hairs on Conservation Mountain.
A visit to Cabela's also expands your appreciation for the myriad applications of camouflage. There are rows and racks of complete camo wardrobes, matching packs and coolers. Some outfits, such as the ScentBlocker 3-D Real Leaf suit, transform the stealth hunter into a pile of leaves and twigs. Again, the underlying theme of conservation, as hunters become one with Nature, waiting patiently on a camo sniper ladder or in a camo attack boat.
And for those who fret about a forest where dozens of camo leaf men may start sighting on each other, there is an ample day-glow orange section (the "Don't Shoot Me!!!" line of sportsmen wardrobe). Deer vision doesn't distinguish orange as unnatural -- hopefully your fellow hunters do.
Cabela's supports the complete outdoorsman lifestyle. Sure you've hunted, you've killed -- but now what? Eat 'em! Cabela's Jerky Blaster, a kind of caulk gun for meat, is designed to make your tedious home jerkifying labors a joy.
On the company's web site, Cabela's encourages hunters to submit their own trophy mounts for enshrinement in future Cabela's retail stores: "This will help us celebrate and honor our nation's outdoor heritage."
The call for kills points out: "It's a great way to participate in a unique historical commemoration while preserving your collectibles and sharing them with generations to come" -- another hint at Cabela's plans for survival of the fittest.
October 3, 2016: Cabela's is being bought by the other chain of big sportsmen stores -- Bass Pro Shops.