The Bass store sales represent a hopeful blip in this ailing gambling town, where four casinos closed last year, snuffing out 8,000 jobs.
Retail is expected to play a bigger role here. “A key metric for tracking value of retail is the asking price per square foot – up 8 percent, year-over-year in Atlantic City while the rest of Atlantic County is down,” said Israel Posner, executive director of the Lloyd D. Levenson Institute of Gaming, Hospitality, and Tourism at Stockton University.
City-owned land ripe for redevelopment, including Bader Field and Gardner’s Basin, is expected to add more retail shops and restaurants to attract tourism.
The Bass Pro Shops “Outpost,” as the Atlantic City store is known, is one of 100 stores within the Tanger Outlets at the Walk, a sprawling outdoor mall.
“Part of what’s driving our gift and apparel [sales] is the visitor is not our typical customer,” Clements said. “A lot are walking the Walk, and coming to us and seeing us for the first time. They’re not our core shopper, but a shopper we are happy to have.”
The Bass shops are an unusual retailer. Gov. Christie attended the Atlantic City store’s opening last month. It features a display 13,000-gallon aquarium, along with boats, guns, camping gear, and even a pistol range.
“There are very few companies in the world that are more sought-after than Bass Pro Shops,” Blake Cordish, vice president of Cordish Cos., which owns the Walk, said at the April 15 grand opening.
Clements said the fishing department – which offers all things fishing, including lures and baits – was the largest draw, followed by the marine department with its array of boats and accessories.
Meanwhile, apparel – which includes footwear for men, women, and children – and gifts (anything from toys to home decor and food) also performed surprisingly well, he said. The shop offers a lot of technical apparel for the outdoors with brands such as Columbia, Under Armour, and North Face.
The proximity of wildlife is also a factor. He ticked off a few examples: a quarter-million acres of wildlife management areas, more than 50,000 deer harvested in New Jersey last year, a world-class saltwater fishery, and one of the best bird-watching sites in the country.
Car license plates in the Bass parking lot, especially during weekends, tell the story.
“We’re getting customers mostly from points west, from all of New Jersey,” and at least a third are from the Keystone State.
The nearest Bass store is in Harrisburg. Competitor Cabela’s opened a store in Hamburg, Pa., in 2003.
Dr. William Byrne of Holland, Pa., who has a second home in Brigantine, stopped by Friday looking for docking rope so he and his wife could launch their boat. “We shop at the [Walk] outlets all the time and we’ve been waiting for this to open,” he said.
The average Bass Pro Shop attracts 1.2 million visitors, who travel on average more than 50 miles to get to a store, and spend more than 2.5 hours on average shopping.
“It has brought tremendous visibility to Atlantic City, which is only adding to our non-gaming mantra for this summer,” Mayor Don Guardian said.
The company has grown rapidly in the last decade. A dozen Bass stores have opened in the last 18 months. Eight more will open in the next year, ranging from Tampa, Fla., to Bridgeport, Conn. It all started in the early 1970s when owner Johnny Morris, a professional bass fisherman, couldn’t find the baits and lures he needed to fish competitively.
Morris drove a U-Haul truck all over the country and bought bass fishing lures, lines, and other fishing equipment from manufacturers, and took them back home to Springfield, Mo. There, he set up a section in his father’s liquor store and began selling the lures.
The start-up did well, but Clements said people didn’t want to drive all the way to Springfield, so Morris started a catalog business in 1974. Four years later, he put together the first boat-motor-trailer package – Bass Tracker – marketed at one price: $2,999. That exploded his business and Morris began building his own boats and motors. He started opening Bass stores in the 1980s.
“We look for areas that visitors drive through on their way to outdoor destinations,” Clements said.
Bass stores range in size from the 85,000-square-foot Atlantic City store – the normal size for many of its stores – to the company’s largest, the half-million-square-foot Bass emporium that opened this month in Memphis, featuring a hotel and water staging area for boats.
Morris and his visual team are involved with the design of every store, tailoring each to its region. For instance, the back wall over the fishing department in Atlantic City depicts the Mullica River, while an image of the Edwin B. Forsythe National Wildlife Refuge in Galloway adorns the camping department.
Alysha Martin, 25, of Cape May, was looking at camping gear and women’s apparel Friday with her best friend, Eric Hewitt, 23, also of Cape May.
“It adds variety to the stores in the area,” said Martin, a real estate agency secretary. “It’s something different.”
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