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Uncertainty at Cabela's

The giant inflatable pheasant and shot gun shell are on display outside of Cabela's on Friday in Mitchell. (Matt Gade / Republic)1 / 2
Patrons visit Cabela's on Friday morning in Mitchell. (Matt Gade / Republic)2 / 2

With trucks filled to the top with hunting gear and supplies, a group of men from Wisconsin made their annual stop in Mitchell on Thursday.

The group of more than a dozen men has traveled through Mitchell, stopping at Cabela's on their way to Agar for pheasant hunting opening weekend — which kicks off today — since the early 1980s. They call Mitchell the best location for a break from the more than 700 miles of driving.

"It's a good place to stop and shop and get any last things we need," said John Duchatschek, of Oshkosh, Wisconsin.

"And maybe stuff we don't need," joked his travelmate, Rick Schumann.

The merger of Bass Pro Shops and Cabela's is complete, but the company's future in Mitchell and nationally remains unclear, and the men worry they might have to alter travel plans in the future.

Representatives at both local and corporate levels declined to comment on the future of the Mitchell store this week, directing inquiries to a frequently asked questions list on the company's website. Company officials have previously said they intend to keep most Cabela's stores open and have no immediate plans to rebrand them.

"As we move forward, we are committed to retaining everything customers love about both Bass Pro Shops and Cabela's by creating a 'best-of-the-best' experience that includes the superior products, outstanding customer service and exceptional value our customers have come to expect," Bass Pro Founder and CEO Johnny Morris said in a statement. "We're also deeply motivated by the potential to significantly advance key conservation initiatives."

Mitchell Store Manager Ben Grenier said that despite quiet corporate offices, the finalization of the merger has restored customers' confidence. The merger, he said, signals a commitment by both companies to retain the best qualities of each business and create a "unique shopping experience."

"Since they've made the official announcement, it's made customers more confident and there's been more traffic," Grenier said. "There was some uncertainty for a while, but now that it's officially happened, it's put people at ease that everything's going to go well and we have a future in Mitchell."

Representatives at a similar store for outdoor enthusiasts said they've heard Cabela's concerns from some of their own customers, but haven't noticed an increase or decrease in business since the merger was announced in late 2016.

Dani Hoffman, manager of SoDak Sports located down the road from Cabela's, said since the business opened just a few months before the merger was announced, it's difficult to compare traffic and sales numbers.

"There are some customers that are concerned about what will happen as the mergers take place," Hoffman said. "They're good about sending customers here when they don't have a product, too, so it's hard to differentiate. I don't know any different."

'Changed the image of Mitchell'

Mitchell's Cabela's store opened in 2000, and is one of two South Dakota locations. The Bass Pro Shop's $4.2 billion acquisition of Cabela's was in the works for nearly a year, after Cabela's reported a 21 percent decline in stock price over the course of a year.

Having the outdoor retailing giant in Mitchell created a boom in economic development, said Bryan Hisel, executive director of the Mitchell Area Development Corporation.

Following Cabela's, buildings went up south of Interstate 90 in rapid succession. Walmart, numerous hotels and restaurants, an indoor mall, a strip-mall and a conference center have all been built near Cabela's since the store opened — generating more than $100 million in taxable sales annually.

"It has changed the image of Mitchell as a growing, progressive, good place to live. That can't be understated," Hisel said. "You are what people perceive you to be, and I think Mitchell was a great place to live before that, but not everybody believed that."

Because Cabela's is known for big game hunting and targets western and midwestern states, while Bass Pro is more known for fishing and southern states, Hisel said he's optimistic about the company's future in Mitchell.

As long as the Cabela's store is profitable, Hisel said he anticipates it remaining in operation. But the company could fall into the national retail slump, Hisel added, noting that people are being drawn more to online shopping.

But if Cabela's were to close up shop, Hisel said the Mitchell Area Development Corporation and the Mitchell Area Chamber of Commerce would work "very hard" to ensure the business' building could be repurposed for use by a different company, rather than sitting as an empty eyesore visible from I-90.

"I think they want a profitable store that makes money, pays bills and continues the Cabela's brand in our region. It has potential to be here as long as the company is around," Hisel said. "With that said, things aren't forever, and we've had 17 very good years with the Cabela's project."