Hundreds of people showed up for the evening grand opening and the fanfare continued inside the 130,000-square-foot store despite the threat of thunderstorms.
“It’s been a lot of fun,” said store manager Ronnie Cheeks. “It’s been interesting, fun and humbling putting this together.”
“There’s such a large outdoor community here around the whole greater Tampa Bay area,” Cheeks said. “And we finally have a place where people can go and enjoy the outdoors – whether its camping, kayaking, fishing or hunting.”
Bass Pro sells merchandise for fishing, camping, hunting, boating and other outdoor gear. Customers toured the store’s fishing ponds, which were filled with indigenous fish found in the Gulf of Mexico and lakes around Florida. One aquarium looks like a sinkhole with water pouring into it.
Hand-painted murals of Florida wildlife scenes and vintage photographs of Florida hang in other parts of the store.
“This store (not only) says Florida – but it says our part of Florida,” Cheeks said. “When you walk around the store and you see the hand-painted pictures of the Hillsborough River, the Little Manatee or the Skyway Bridge, this looks like our neighborhood.”
The 7,000-square-foot Islamorada Fish Co. restaurant was packed opening night with diners trying out seafood and other entrees, as well as cocktails.
A boat showroom featured saltwater boats, performance fishing boats and pontoons.
Bass Pro Shops is known to have a strong following of loyal shoppers nationwide. About 120 million people visit Bass Pro stores in the United States and Canada every year. The average customer spends more than two hours in the store at one time, and drives 50 miles to get there.
Construction on the megastore at Interstate 75 and Palm River Road wrapped earlier than expected this year. In April, the retailer began hiring the 300-plus employees it needs to staff the store.