Pearl — By any measure, the new Bass Pro Shop Outdoor World store is going to be big. The more than $30-million facility, located at the interchange of Interstate 20, Interstate 55 and U.S. 49, is set for opening November 8, 2005, and will feature more than 100,000 square feet of retail space, a lake for fishing demonstrations, an aquarium and other amenities that are expected to attract two million or more visitors per year, and will employ 300 workers.
Since the project’s announcement in 2003, anticipation of the store’s opening has been keen — except maybe among metro Jackson-area outfitters. A multi-million-dollar incentive package from the state and city to Bass Pro Shops is their main beef.
Outfitters vow to compete
“If they had purchased the land themselves, if they had built the building themselves, it would be different,” said Rocky Duke, owner of The Outfitter in Richland, “but they used our tax dollars. I think that’s wrong.”
Van Allen, owner of Van’s Deer Processing and Sporting Goods in Brandon, was even stronger in his opinion.
“This is nothing but discrimination,” Allen said. “To give one company money and not another is discrimination, and it doesn’t make good sense. I understand that everybody wants to get that big business, like Nissan up in Canton. But it just isn’t right.”
However, neither Duke nor Allen is running scared. Duke pointed out that there are things local outfitters can offer that the Bass Pro Shop will not. For instance, The Outfitter offers meat processing, a service not planned for the Bass Pro Shop. And he feels his store will offer prices competitive with Bass Pro Shop. But he said, in the end, locals would be able to compete with the mega store through superior customer relations.
“We’ll compete with service,” Duke said. “We’re hoping our local clientele stays with us because we treated them well.”
Allen agreed. “We’ll carry more hunting accessories here than they will,” he said. “We’ll have stuff here they don’t have. And we just need to take care of our customers and our employees.”
Last year, well after Bass Pro Shops’ announcement of coming to Pearl, Allen expanded Van’s Deer Processing and Sporting Goods to 20,000 square feet, and the store draws customers from all over Mississippi and beyond for meat processing and, according to Allen, the largest inventory of guns in Mississippi. Allen said he sees an opportunity for bringing in new customers — using Bass Pro Shops name recognition and drawing power.
“Don’t think that I’m not going to have a billboard near there that tells everybody that we have the largest selection of guns in Mississippi at Van’s,” Allen said. “Don’t think I’m not going to know who the Bass Pro manager is. Don’t think I’m not going to learn the department heads at Bass Pro. When they don’t have something, maybe they’ll say, ‘Well, Van’s is right down the road. They have it.’
“I’m not scared of Bass Pro Shop. I think in the end it will increase business (for local outfitters). I think it will offer an opportunity for all of us. I’d love to be in the same parking lot with them. We could go toe-to-toe with them — and win.”
Bring on the tourists
Whether Bass Pro Shops’ arrival is in the end good or bad for local hunting and sporting goods retailers remains to be seen. However, there is little doubt that out-of-towners are on the way with the expressed mission of spending money in the metro area.
The Pearl Bass Pro Shop will be a component of the Bloomfield Development, a $55-million “lifestyle” development that includes the $28-million Trustmark Park, home of the Atlanta minor league baseball team the Mississippi Braves. It will also feature upscale shops, hotel and other amenities encompassing nearly 800,000 square feet of space and covering 150 or more acres. Total employment, including the Bass Pro Shop, is expected to be 1,000 workers.
Estimates run as high as 2.5 million visitors annually to the Bass Pro Shop. Fred Rendfrey, executive director of the Pearl Chamber of Commerce, said Bass Pro Shops is projecting each customer would spend $25, which means the Pearl store could generate approximately $62.5 million in gross sales.
“That’s not chump change, and the sales tax won’t be chump change, either,” Rendfrey said.
Rendfrey added that he had spoken with Bob Flowers with the Bloomfield Development, and the company is seeing a high volume of interest from prospective businesses looking to locate near Bass Pro/Bloomfield. Rendfrey said Bloomfield has purchased an additional 33 acres of land because of the interest, and expects the development’s square footage to increase.
On September 13, Pearl voters approved the creation of a restaurant tax district near the Bloomfield Development. Restaurants in that district will be assessed an additional 2% sales tax hike with the funds going toward infrastructure improvements in the immediate area around Bass Pro Shop. The vote failed by just a handful of votes last June. However, the September referendum easily cleared the required 60% approval.
“It’s very good news,” Rendfrey said. “After Hurricane Katrina, we were hesitant about how the vote would go.”
Contact MBJ staff writer Wally Northway at email@example.com.