Cabela’s coming to New York, but not here

Its name evokes the same kind of yearning as Nordstrom or Crate & Barrel or other top-line retailers

Its name evokes the same kind of yearning as Nordstrom or Crate & Barrel or other top-line retailers whose presence says a region has arrived.

But Cabela’s picked suburban Buffalo, not the Capital Region, for its first New York store.

The outdoors retailer, best known for its massive log-and-stone destination stores, announced last week that it would start building in Cheektowaga this fall and open a year later. The site, near the upscale Walden Galleria mall, will be part of a 200,000-square-foot shopping center within eyeshot of the state Thruway that will be renamed Cabela’s Crossing.

“We are very excited to bring the Cabela’s retail experience to New York,” company CEO Tommy Millner said in a news release. “We have thousands of loyal customers across the state who are passionate for the outdoors and who share the Cabela’s lifestyle.”

OK, but why not here, where rivers, lakes and mountains are within easy reach and nearly 74,000 hunting and fishing licenses are issued annually in Albany, Rensselaer, Saratoga and Schenectady counties?

Cabela’s declined to elaborate on Buffalo’s selection or where else in New York the retailer might locate. Nathan Borowski, a communications specialist with the company, said by email, “Due to the inherent strategic and competitive nature of site selection, we cannot provide any additional information about potential store locations.”

He directed me to the company’s website, where basic criteria are listed for developers interested in pitching sites: 12-acre minimum; within 20 minutes of a metro area; 1 million population within a 30-mile radius; traffic count of 40,000 cars per day. Also included is this: “Prefer interstate frontage and require excellent access and visibility.”

Local sites suggested for the retailer in the past certainly met that measure: the former Engel Farm across from The Desmond Hotel near the Northway in Colonie; the former Albany International plant in East Greenbush, visible from Interstate 90, that was razed for a Federal Express distribution center; the former First Prize Center off Interstate 90 at Everett Road on the Albany-Colonie line.

Cabela’s, founded in 1961, was a catalog retailer early on; it didn’t start building stores until 1987. Then, the 250,000-square-foot behemoths, with aisles and aisles of hunting, fishing and camping gear and accessories, doubled as tourist attractions with archery ranges, indoor mountain replicas and museum-quality wildlife displays.

Today, catalog sales continue, joined by an online sales push that began in 1998. But the stores have gotten smaller as Cabela’s began a bricks-and-mortar expansion following the recession.

The Buffalo store is part of this “next generation” trend: just 88,000 square feet but still sporting the iconic Cabela’s facade and wildlife display. (An even smaller store, a 40,000-square-foot “Outpost,” is being tested for rural markets.) The company, with revenue of $3.1 billion last year, now has 44 stores in the U.S. and Canada and expects to roll out 24 next-gen stores by 2016 — about eight a year. Millner, the CEO, told analysts at a conference in March that he envisions an eventual build-out of 225 stores as the company seeks to consolidate the $50 billion outdoors market, which currently is dominated by independent mom-and-pop players.

Given that goal and the smaller format — it’s the size of a Kohl’s store, for Pete’s sake — how could the Capital Region not land the retailer?

Marlene Kennedy is a freelance columnist. Opinions expressed in her column are her own and not necessarily the newspaper’s. Reach her at [email protected]

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