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How much will Cabela's affect local stores?

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Owners of local hunting- and fishing-related businesses know the new Charleston-area Cabela's store will affect their businesses.

They just aren't sure how much.

The 80,000-square-foot facility, scheduled to open Aug. 9, will sell fishing tackle, guns, bows, camping equipment, ATVs and apparel. Most of the stores in the Kanawha Valley that currently sell those things are mom-and-pop shops.

One of those operations, anticipating a dramatic loss of customers to the new Cabela's, went out of business June 30.

"I didn't think we could compete with them," said Joe Lewis, former owner of On The Fly, a small fly-fishing specialty shop in St. Albans. "They were going to be carrying a lot of the same brands we did, and with their buying power, they would be selling them for less than we did.

"For every item I ordered a dozen of, they would be ordering 5,000 -- and they'd get free shipping, which I didn't."

Lewis said Cabela's had the ability to affect his business in a way other big-box stores that carried fishing tackle could not.

"Most of the big boxes don't carry much, if any, fly-fishing equipment," he explained. "Cabela's is one of the few big boxes that know anything about fly fishing, and they hit it pretty hard. They even have separate catalogs for fly fishing and fly tying."

Even so, Lewis said Cabela's competitive advantage wasn't his sole reason for closing up shop.

"The weather stunk two springs in a row, and when the weather's bad people don't go fishing.

When they don't go fishing, they don't buy fly-fishing gear," he added. "And with the economy as shaky as it is, people didn't seem to be spending as much money on fishing."

Lewis had been in business less than 21/2 years when he decided to close.

Two other business owners, both of which have operated in the greater Kanawha Valley for more than 20 years, said they aren't very concerned about losing customers to Cabela's.

Dan Kessel, managing partner at Spring Hill Rod and Gun in South Charleston, believes his sales staff's experience and expertise will help his business offset Cabela's buying power and high-profile location.

"Our main ace in the hole, and one that I think will make the difference, is that we have a reputation for good customer service, good customer relations, and a good experienced staff," he said.

"We also have consistent, loyal customers who say they're going to continue to shop here. I have people tell me that every day."

Kessel also thinks the very fact that his store specializes in hunting and fishing gear sets it apart from Cabela's.

"A lot of Cabela's draw is that they sell clothing and other items that we don't sell anyway," he said.

In some ways, Kessel added, Cabela's presence might actually help his business.

"A big store like that does bring people into the area, and it might also get people who have lain dormant active again. We might be able to feed off their draw," he said.

Frank Addington, owner of Addington's Bowhunter Shop near Winfield, expects to lose at least some business to Cabela's, but only for minor purchases.

"They'll hurt what I call 'easy sales' -- small items like [deer lure] scents and stuff like that," Addington said. "The convenience of their store will give me competition. But where bow sales are concerned, I don't think our business will change."

Part of Addington's confidence stems from his knowledge that he has exclusive local sales rights for Mathews bows, one of the most sought-after brands. He also stocks a sizable inventory of upgrade and repair parts for the Mathews line.

"I also know I'll have an advantage where service is concerned," Addington said. "I have 35 years' worth of experience at setting up and maintaining bows. How many of [Cabela's] employees are going to be able to say that?"

Like Kessel, Addington believes Cabela's presence might actually help him attract new customers.

"Any store that promotes archery is only going to help bring more people into the sport," he said. "When Gander Mountain built their big store up there at Southridge, it didn't hurt our business one bit. If anything it helped it, mainly because people could see the difference in the service they got from them and the service they got from me."

Reach John McCoy at 304-348-1231 or e-mail: johnmccoy@wvgazette.com.


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