(Walter Weis-photo) 

Sig Hansen skipper of the Northwestern for the reality show “Deadliest Catch” signs autographes during the Bass Pro Shops grand opening in Rancho Cucamonga Wednesday 07/18/07.

Shoppers jam Bass Pro Shops

Wendy Leung, Staff Writer

Photo Gallery: Bass Pro Shops open
Video: Bass Pro Shops’ grand opening

RANCHO CUCAMONGA – It’s all a bit intimidating, actually.

There was so much anticipation for the doors to open at Bass Pro Shops, when it finally did Wednesday evening, it was hard to decide where to go first.

There’s the boat showroom that at 22,000 square feet is bigger than most stores.

There’s the African-themed special guns room.

Then there’s the archery department where you can get your bow tuned.

Eugene Todd, 30, of Victorville headed straight upstairs to the gun accessories. Todd just got his hunting license last week and was looking for some fiber-optic sights to put on his rifle. Twenty minutes after the doors opened, Todd already had lost his buddy in the crowd.

“Man, I’m like a kid in a candy store,” Todd said. “This is going to be a weekly affair depending if my wife lets me come.”

The celebration on Wednesday, dubbed “Evening for Conservation,” brought out arguably the most eclectic mix of local politicians, former athletes and beauty queens to mark the outdoors retailer’s grand opening.

Where else could you find Smokey Bear, state Sen. Bob Dutton, R-Rancho Cucamonga, the Lakers Girls and a professional angler named `Mr. Crappie’ in one place.

Andrew Squires, 25, of Yucaipa waited 30 minutes to meet Sig Hansen of the Discovery Channel’s “Deadliest Catch.” Squires said he usually goes to San Bernardino or a Wal-Mart to get his fishing gear.

“But this one blows them all out of the water,” he said.

Squires then joined the thousands of curious visitors who gasped and cooed as they walked into the gargantuan lobby, straining their necks to see the tall murals as if admiring Manhattan skyscrapers.

At 193,000 square feet, the retail store is so big it has its own gift shop, in case the restaurant, aquarium and rock-climbing wall made you forget you were supposed to buy merchandise.

Long lines marked the store’s first day. An hour after the doors opened, throngs of people who were nowhere near the main entrance were lining up to get in. Once inside, there were lines to get autographs, to make purchases and to get into the Islamorada Fish Company restaurant.

Officials are banking on the success of the Rancho Cucamonga store – the first Bass Pro Shops in California – partly because they know there are plenty of hunters and anglers in the area who have few places to go for their equipment apart from buying it online.

There are an estimated 2.7 million anglers in California, according to U.S. Fish and Wildlife statistics. The only other state with more is Florida.

If the predictions prove accurate, the Missouri-based retailer will bring in $750,000 to $1 million in sales-tax revenue each year. It has brought about 300 jobs to the city.

Indeed Bass Pro Shops, so clearly visible from the 15 Freeway, has stolen much of the spotlight from the rest of Victoria Gardens and other much smaller outdoors retailers.

About half a mile away from Bass Pro Shops is REI, the outdoors stalwart that once dominated the market.

Brian Edwards, an REI outreach specialist, said the main competition is not so much Bass Pro Shops but television programming and video games that keep people from spending time outdoors.

“Certainly our numbers will take a hit, but we like to think we can maintain a loyal customer base,” Edwards said.

In addition to selling merchandise, REI hosts a number of trips and workshops. It recently launched Outdoor School, a program offering lessons from kayaking to nature photography.

Bass Pro Shops has a list of courses planned out through the end of the year. They range from Global Positioning System workshops to butterfly-jig fishing lessons.

Few can compete with the variety of merchandise at Bass Pro Shops. Take the meat-processor aisle on the second floor. This corner of the store has several shelves that hold a sausage stuffer, beef-jerkey maker and a machine that can grind 14 pounds of meat.

Brian Park, 44, of Corona had his hands full with a towel, temperature gauge and camping chair in tow.

His two sons followed along – one of them lost patience and started tearing into a bag of candy before reaching the cashier.

“It’s a lot of things we don’t need,” Park said.

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