The first customer in the checkout line, Ed Udell, spent $15.11 on bullets for a .22 long rifle after waiting outside since 6 a.m. for the outdoors store to open in the Village at Riverwatch.
“I am totally thrilled that they got a store here,” said Udell, of Martinez. “I love fishing and hunting.”
Udell was among hundreds of customers waiting in a line that wrapped throughout the Cabela’s parking lot to the street. A Richmond County deputy directed traffic before the grand opening, as vehicles had filled the lot and were parking on both sides of the shopping center’s streets.
A company spokesman estimated that 2,000 people had gathered in front of the 42,000-square-foot store shortly before the doors opened at 11 a.m.
Cabela’s CEO Tommy Millner was in attendance for the company’s first store opening in Georgia and in the Southeast. The Augusta store employs about 90 associates.
Millner, a Virginia native whose wife is from Georgia, said he has wanted to bring a Cabela’s to the region since taking over the company five years ago. Cabela’s has more than 50 stores across the country, with stores opening in Greenville, S.C., on April 3 and in Acworth, Ga., later this year.
“We’ve got customers in the South that are just waiting for us,” Millner said.
The site off River Watch Parkway and Interstate 20 is ideal for several reasons, he said.
“It’s a great location because we’re close to the South Carolina border, so it can draw from Aiken and Augusta, and we’ve got good interstate visibility,” Millner said. “We love being with Costco. We locate with them in a lot of places in America. We just love it here.”
Cabela’s follows Costco as the second major commercial project to open in the development, where a movie theater and an outlet mall also are in the works. Bass Pro Shops once planned a store for the center but backed out in 2011, as it also did last year with a store pegged for Columbia County.
Some eager customers, such as Tracy Lingle and his group from the local chapter of Trail Life USA, camped out overnight to be the first in line early Thursday for Cabela’s opening.
Lingle said he and about 25 others started the line at 2 a.m., which had quickly multiplied by about 8 a.m.
“It’s just kind of a fun thing to do,” said the Evans resident. “We really wanted to be the first or as close to the front as possible.”
Customers were greeted inside the store by employees, who cheered and gave out high-fives as they entered. The first 500 people received gift cards ranging from $5 to $250.
North Augusta resident Robert Herring and his 1-year-old son, Colin, were shopping in the fishing department. Herring, who already had picked up a fishing rod, said he also was looking for lures.
“I’ve been waiting for this day for two months,” said Herring, adding that he likely would frequent the store twice a month.
The store also includes hunting, camping and apparel sections, a firearms counter, and an indoor archery range and tech room.
Tommy Davis traveled 30 miles from Johnson, S.C., with his wife, Len, to check out the new store. He had added a boat cover and pistol holster to his cart, while Len looked in the women’s apparel section.
“I’m just glad that Cabela’s decided to come to the CSRA,” he said. “I think that it was a good idea because we’ve got a lot of hunters and fishers in this area.”
Davis, an avid online shopper with Cabela’s, described the business as beautiful.
“It’s a very nice store,” he said. “It’s bigger than I thought it would be inside.”