Cabela's officials invited the media into their new Charleston store earlier this week for a sneak peek ahead of the store's Aug. 9 grand opening.
I took the tour. A few impressions:
The new store isn't as big as the Wheeling store. In fact, it's only two-thirds the size. The Wheeling facility encompasses 120,000 square feet, the Charleston store 80,000.
There's no airplane. A yellow floatplane dominates the overhead space at the Wheeling store. The Charleston store represents a new, more compact design concept that lacks room for such fancy, space-eating ornaments.
There's no sculpture. Most previous Cabela's stores have had giant pieces of bronze wildlife sculpture standing near the front entrance. For the Charleston store, Cabela's officials opted to welcome customers with a large, dramatic taxidermy diorama located just inside the front doors.
Taxidermy abounds. Store officials said there are 243 mounts, many of which depict dramatic vignettes of wildlife activity - a grizzly bear locked in mortal combat with a bull moose, a wolf leaping to hamstring a fleeing caribou, a mountain lion pouncing from an overhead tree.
Paul Manktelow is a very, very talented chap. He's the Nevada artist who hand-painted all of the mural-sized backdrops for the major taxidermy displays. He did it all freehand, without templates. Impressive.
A couple of the game animals in the store's mountainous main taxidermy exhibit were killed in West Virginia - Carson Birchfield's trophy whitetail, killed in 2007 in Logan County; and Dale Redman's black bear, killed last year in Greenbrier County.
The store's aquarium isn't as big as others in the chain. It's still quite large - 4,500 gallons - and has a neat little waterfall plunging into it. Currently it contains several bass, a bunch of bluegills, a few carp and two schools of baitfish. Plans call for more game fish, all native to West Virginia, to be added later.
The store might be considerably smaller, but it holds a lot of stuff. Manager Matt Leary told me the Charleston store would offer almost as many items as does the Wheeling facility.
Company officials had a fairly easy time settling on the Charleston store's inventory. Leary said they basically took the Wheeling store's list of product lines and tweaked it a little to reflect local tastes. For example, the store wasn't originally going to offer ATVs. But when company officials discovered that a major Hatfield-McCoy trailhead was located just 15 miles away, they decided an ATV shop might not be such a bad idea.
In my conversations with Leary and with special events coordinator Chris Walls, a few surprising tidbits popped up.
Leary told me that customers in the checkout line would be given the option of rounding their totals up to the next highest dollar, and the change would be donated to a variety of national hunting, fishing and conservation associations. He said some of the money would also be donated to local chapters of those organizations.
Walls told me how Cabela's officials came to decide that Charleston would be a good place to locate a store:
"It was based on sales at Wheeling and online sales," he explained. "Every time someone checked out at Wheeling, the clerks took their home ZIP code. The corporate folks put those ZIP codes on a map and added in the ZIP codes from online sales, and located the store smack in the middle."
Williams said Cabela's officials expect the new store to draw most of its customers from within a 150-mile radius, but might attract people from as far away as North Carolina and Tennessee.