The outdoor supply store opened its doors to thousands of anxious customers, as traffic clogged the area and continued into the afternoon on the store’s opening day.
Within 30 minutes of the doors opening at 11 a.m., about 2,000 people had already made their way through the store, with a line of people still wrapped around the 100,000-square-foot building waiting to get inside.
Nathan Borowski, a spokesperson for Cabela’s, estimated a total of 5,000 to 6,000 people would visit the store on opening day.
“We had around 250 people camp out over the past two nights to be some of the first in the store. The first person to get in the store set up a tent in the parking lot at 11 p.m. on Tuesday night,” Borowski said.
General Manager Earl Johnson said he expected a total of 15,000 to 20,000 people would visit the new store before the opening weekend concluded.
“We’ve got a lot of different activities going on out here this weekend,” Johnson said Thursday.
While thousands enjoyed the grand opening celebration, traffic in the area remained clogged for hours, with backups stretching for a mile onto Interstate 75 northbound and for around half a mile in each direction on Highway 92.
Cabela’s officials hired six off-duty sheriff’s deputies to help direct traffic, and arranged for overflow parking during the event, Cherokee Sheriff’s Office spokesman Lt. Jay Baker said.
Borowski said Cabela’s anticipated “a heavy amount of traffic” during the morning.
But, by 10:30 a.m., dozens of cars could be seen along the side of Highway 92, parked on top of sidewalks and filling nearby businesses’ parking lots.
The Cabela’s parking lot was filled up with more than 500 cars “well before the opening ceremony,” Borowski said.
“We partnered with local law enforcement to ensure there is ample safe parking in the area along the road that wraps around the store,” he said.
An overflow parking lot was set up about a mile from the store, at a nearby Chattahoochee Technical College location, but at 11 a.m., the lot was full.
The overflow parking lot was arranged by Cabela’s, Baker said.
The grand opening event began at 8 a.m. with a deejay and games, and a ribbon cutting at 10:45 a.m., before the doors opened to the public.
Jay Kolodzinksi, from Woodstock, brought his three young children to the grand opening event at about 10:30 a.m., so they could see the more than 150 taxidermy animals and living fish.
“It was pretty cool,” he said, adding he’d been to Cabela’s stores in South Dakota and Minnesota before. “They loved it.”
Kolodzinksi said his 4-year-old daughter, Anna, loved the fish tank, and said her favorite part was seeing the catfish. He didn’t buy anything, but Kolodzinksi said he plans to go back once the crowds thin out after the opening week.
Once the rush of opening week calms down, Cherokee County officials see a bright future with Cabela’s.
Pam Carnes, president and CEO of the Cherokee County Chamber of Commerce, said from employment to shopping, Cabela’s offers a great experience for residents.
“What a feather in Cherokee County’s cap for Cabela’s to relocate to our community. It’s no secret that a corporate citizen with their reputation attracts both eager employees, as well as a significant customer base,” Carnes said. “I echo the comments of others in the community who have said what an impressive addition the store is to our community.”
Heath Tippens, a project manager with the Cherokee Office of Economic Development, said people “absolutely” enjoyed the opening event.
“There was a huge turnout,” he said. “Everybody was happy. All the workers were absolutely thrilled to see the customers, and it was a great experience.”
Borowski said it’s tough to estimate how many people might come to the store during the weekend, but he said “with all of the guest appearances and giveaways going on throughout the weekend, we’re expecting thousands more each day.”
While traffic may have put a damper on the area Thursday, Borowski said “parking shouldn’t be an issue heading into the weekend.”
“We had a tremendous turnout with hundreds camping out overnight and thousands passing through the doors today,” he said Thursday. “We’re loving this southern hospitality, and hope customers continue to visit the store and join in on the fun throughout the weekend.”
Special events are planned for the rest of Cabela’s opening weekend, with Clark Wendlandt, Cabela’s Ambassador and three-time FLW Angler of the Year, set to make appearances from 3 to 7 p.m. today, and 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. Saturday.
Corey Cogdell, Cabela’s Ambassador and Olympic medalist, will be at the store from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. Saturday and Sunday, and Joe Teti, co-star of the “Dual Survival” television series, will be there 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday and Sunday.
Troy and Jacob Landry, stars of the History Channel’s “Swamp People,” will be at Cabela’s from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. Sunday, and Steve Scruggs, “The Snake Master,” will be there from 3:30 to 4:30 p.m. Sunday.
Saturday, the store will give away Cabela’s hats to the first 50 people through the doors, and on Sunday, the first 50 people will receive gift cards worth $5 to $100.
On Thursday, nearby gas station and hotel parking lots were packed with cars, and some small streets were lined on both sides with parked cars, leaving room for one lane of traffic to move through on the center lane.
Some businesses had employees working outside to keep Cabela’s customers from filling the parking spaces meant for their own customers, while another business posted a sign that read “No Cabela’s parking.”