With all the excitement of a tent revival, Cabela’s opened its new Wichita store on Wednesday to a packed house of equally enthusiastic hunters, fishermen and new employees.
The Nebraska outdoors retailer unveiled its 80,000-square-foot Wichita store at 21st and Greenwich in Regency Lakes Shopping Center to a huge line of waiting customers, stretching from the store to Greenwich and then winding through the parking lot. Police estimates put the crowd at somewhere between 3,500 and 4,000 people.
It was the first day of public sales, although sales to the store’s credit card club members on Tuesday were three times an average sales day, according to Cabela’s officials.
The store is the linchpin to the growing Regency Lakes retail corridor along Greenwich to K-96, part of a larger proposed STAR bond district that is looking to eventually include a sports fieldhouse and more hotels and restaurants.
Wednesday’s crowd was big enough to lead Cabela’s CEO Tommy Millner to interrupt an employee meeting – really, more of a pep rally featuring fervent speeches, prizes and wildly cheering employees – and climb to the podium to shout, “Look at all those ... people out there.”
Grand opening events Wednesday included speeches by Gov. Sam Brownback, Wichita Metro Chamber president Gary Plummer, city and Cabela’s officials, all of whom called the grand opening a major step forward for the northeast Wichita retail corridor..
“It’s a huge get, a huge anchor,” said Wichita City Council member Pete Meitzner. “We’re extremely excited to get Cabela’s into Wichita at all, and to get them here in an area that’s been growing on its own is just tremendously exciting.”
Meitzner, who represents northeast Wichita on the council, said he expects the Cabela’s opening to trigger interest in Regency Lakes from more national brands.
“Now that we’ve come to fruition here, the developers involved out here in the corridor say the phone is certainly ringing,” he said.
Wichita developer George Laham, who heads the Regency Lakes project, agreed with Meitzner.
“Once you land a retailer like Cabela’s, once they choose you, you’re successful,” Laham said. “It says a lot about the future of this development, and it says a lot about retailing in Wichita, too.
“Any city in America would love to have a Cabela’s. We’ve got one now.”
Millner said company officials quickly determined that the store was a perfect fit for 21st and Greenwich.
“The first time we got into town, it took about 10 seconds for all of us to look at each other and say, ‘We gotta be here,’ ” he said. “Just look at the customer lines. We were right.
“And they’ve done the planning, the work up here. This has good access to K-96, great access to the retailers who are here and the retailers who are coming. We just love the area.”
The crowd was a typical outdoors lover’s group – ballcaps, camouflage and smiles as they waited for the store to open.
“Rods and reels, man,” said Danny Gordon of Howard. “I only have 20 rods and reels or so.
“I need another couple, don’t you think?”