Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Cabela's and Dietrich's

Cabela's is the largest and most comprehensive sporting goods store anywhere. That sounds like a pretty hyperbolic statement, but it's only true. Founded in 1961 in Chapell, Nebraska as a tiny mail order outlet of fishing flies, the company has grown into a behemoth. It's mail order catalogs are eagerly awaited by hunters, fisherman, campers, and other outdoor enthusiasts; reading through it is a feast for the eyes and the imagination. The company produces over 100 mail order catalogs a year. But it's as retail store and outdoor museum that Cabela's really produces for many. There are currently 30 Cabela's stores in the United States and Canada with two new ones announced. We stopped for re-visit at the store located near Hamburg, PA on the northern edge of Pennsylvania's Amish country.

It was a hot, mid-August morning, and the acres of parking lot had not yet begun to fill. Plenty of space is provided for even the largest RV rigs, and Cabela's provides a dump station for convenience. As its web site advertises, Cabela's seeks to serve as a museum for outdoorsman as well as a retail store.

In addition to the mammoth bronze sculpture of Indians in a birch bark canoe tackling rough lake waves, much of the floor space at Cabela's is taken up with game mounts from around the world. Many of these are meticulous reproductions of world record animals. Others are realistic portrayals of animals in their natural habitats. Cabela's is no place for people who reject killing game animals as sport. With that warning, the store provides an interesting balance between selling merchandise and offering well mounted displays of game animals as well as a few live displays of fish. It also has acres of gear, clothing, camping equipment, furniture, weapons, field living necessities, furniture, and more. Cabela's is not a discount store, although the Bargain Cave at the back of the store has much to offer the discriminating bargain hunter. The store itself, comprising about 250,000 square feet, is just too large to describe adequately, so I'll let pictures do most of the talking. One of the enjoyable elements of a visit to Cabela's is just plain people watching. We chatted briefly with a young family from Charlotte, NC on our way into the store. As we wandered around, we encountered a number of Mennonite people in their typical plain dress. Out of respect for their religious convictions, there are no pictures of plain folk in my blog.

View on Entering Store

Oceans of Fishing Gear

Forests of Camo

African Veldt Display

Watering Hole

American Game Mountain

Sometimes you can almost forget that this is all an indoors effort to sell the merchandise associated with hunting and camping. When I was a kid in New York City, one of my favorite places was the Museum of Natural History where, in addition to the dinosaur bones and the gigantic sperm whale hanging from the ceiling, the dioramas of game from around the world, especially the Akeley African Hall depicted the wild world better than anything else available at the time. The mounts and settings at Cabela's approach the wonder of those days.

A Stuffed Moose Watches it All

Deer Country is perhaps the signature display at Cabela's. Isolated from the retail sales area, it comprises dozens of mounts and heads as a fine museum display. Perhaps characteristic of Deer Country's visitors is this truck driver from Arkansas studying a wall of huge heads, each with a newpaper page telling its story. For this man, a visit to Cabela's is like a pilgrimage.

When I visit Cabela's, I like to stop into the Gun Library, where collectors' guns are desplayed behind lock and key. The most expensive rifle I saw on this visit cost just short of $15,000 but you never know what might be in stock. After a couple of hours wandering around, we left with six pieces of fresh fudge clutched in our hands. First time visitors should allow at least half a day for a visit to Cabela's. The cafeteria inside obviates the necessity of leaving the store to eat, but an entire industry of outlieing stores has been spawned by this institution. The once dieing town of Hamburg has been resuscitated.

Dietrich's Meats & Country Store

Located in eastern Berks County along I-78 and only a few miles east of Cabela's is Dietrich's Meats & Country Store. When our son was a student playing soccer at Lafayette College, we discovered Dietrich's as a place to stop for great home smoked hot dogs to take to the tail gates which the parents provided to feed their starving kids after games. Later, when we lived in Berks County for a few years, we came to treasure Dietrich's as a source of hams, sausages, liverwurst, and endless varieties of smoked and fresh meat as well as Amish baked goods and wonderful local ice cream. And of course - scrapple. If you're not familiar with scrapple, don't ask what's in it. Just buy some, slice it thin, and fry it for breakfast along with your eggs and biscuits. Again, out of respect for the religious traditions of plain folk, I have not included any pictures, but check out their web site and stop there if you happen to be crossing Pennsylvania on I-78.