Open for business: Crowd packs Cabela’s on opening day

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Customers began lining up Wednesday night around 8 p.m. in preparation for the opening of the new Cabela’s Outpost at 11 a.m. Thursday. Scott Thomson of Columbia Falls was the first official customer through the doors.

With a line of several hundred people snaking through a jam-packed parking lot and rock anthem music blaring from speakers, the grand opening of the Kalispell Cabela’s Outpost store resembled something close to a sporting event Thursday.

Shortly before the 11 a.m. opening, Tommy Millner, the Nebraska-based company’s chief executive officer, gathered employees (also known as “outfitters”) at the front of the store for a rousing pep talk.

“They’re standing out there in the cold for you,” he said, gesturing toward the line of customers, and then invoked the customer service philosophy behind the company’s 52-year history.

“The boss is standing in that parking lot and don’t forget it!” he said, to a response of loud cheers from dozens of outfitters.

The entire staff joined Millner, Kalispell Mayor Tammi Fisher and others for brief remarks over a public address system as the customers, many dressed in camo, waited in a cold drizzle of snow.

Millner joked to the crowd that he can read minds and he knew exactly what they were thinking: “Shut up and open the door!”

Standing on top of an elevated hunting stand, renowned archery hunter and Cabela’s pro staff member Jim Brennan conducted the “ribbon cutting,” loosing an arrow into a clay pigeon at the front of the store.

With that, the doors swung open.

Customers were greeted with high fives and loud cheers for about an hour by a lineup of outfitters at the front of the store.

Columbia Falls resident Scott Thomson was the first in line, having arrived at the parking lot at about 8:30 p.m. Wednesday. He set up a tent, his sleeping bag and a heat stove that gave him trouble through the night.

“It was freezing cold,” said Thomson, who was joined on the overnighter by his friends, Jared Smith and Jeremy McIntyre of Whitefish.

But the wait was worth it. Thomson received a $500 gift card for being the first in line and an additional $250 card for being one of the first 500 in line, who received cards valued between $5 and $250.

Thomson beelined it to the firearms section to shop for guns.

A huge swarm of customers descended on the ammunition section, with a Kalispell police officer standing nearby to keep the peace.

Within half an hour, shoppers had put a big dent in the inventory of ammo boxes on the shelves.

“There’s demand for it,” Cabela’s spokesman Wes Remmer said. “We’re working diligently to keep the shelves stocked, and ammo is part of that.”

A line extended outside the store for at least an hour after the opening, and Remmer said that’s typical for openings at other locations.

“Hopefully it’s steady all day for us,” Remmer said.

Bigfork resident and retired Army Maj. Gen. Paul Vallely was on hand as a special guest of Millner’s. Vallely said his Kalispell-based company, NEMO Arms, recently signed a contract with Cabela’s to carry NEMO firearms.

Other notables making appearances included C.J. Buck, chief executive officer of Buck Knives; Jim and Donna Teeny, Cabela’s ambassadors; and Gary Moses, a retired Glacier National Park ranger and bear manager who now is an ambassador for Counter Assault bear spray.

The parking lot was full of Flathead County and Lake County license plates, but there was also a large representation from Alberta and even some plates from Idaho and Washington.

By around 3 p.m., Remmer said the customer count was up to around 3,400 and the store was still bustling with people.

“We’re thrilled to finally have the doors open and to be running the business,” Remmer said.

Reporter Jim Mann may be reached at 758-4407 or by email at jmann@dailyinterlake.com.

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