Tennessee Pyramid Brings Outdoors Inside

Posted May 27th, 2016 at 1:52 pm (UTC-5)
3 comments

Bass Pro Shops has drawn roughly 3 million visitors to its Pyramid complex of restaurants, retail stores, ‘cypress swamp’ and other attractions, in Memphis, Tennessee. (Courtesy photo)

Bass Pro Shops has drawn roughly 3 million visitors to its Pyramid complex of restaurants, retail stores, ‘cypress swamp’ and other attractions, in Memphis, Tennessee. (Courtesy photo)

Online retail sales in the U.S. keep rising, reaching nearly $93 billion in the year’s first quarter, as the Department of Commerce reported this month. Their annual growth has outpaced that of in-store retail by a rate of at least 15 percent to 3 percent since 2010, Marketplace reports.

But consumers sometimes want an immersive shopping experience. Keyboard clicks can’t deliver the sweet immediacy of a fudge sample, the rousing “ack-ack” of a duck call or the thrill of a free-standing elevator rocketing up 28 stories to a restaurant and river-view observation deck.

Those are among the options at Bass Pro Shops’ Outdoor World at the Pyramid, a massive specialty store on the east bank of the Mississippi River in Memphis, Tennessee. The Southern city is better known for Elvis Presley’s Graceland and bluesy Beale Street.

Not exactly a souk by the Nile, this riverside pyramid nonetheless holds a bounty of attractions for outdoor enthusiasts or wanna-bes. Merchandise ranges from hip boots to camouflage-upholstered recliners to Beretta firearms to bass boats lining lagoons where trout swim. There are live alligators, stuffed grizzlies, restaurants, a hotel, bowling alley and Ducks Unlimited Heritage Center.

Bass Pro Shops has drawn roughly 3 million visitors to its Pyramid complex of restaurants, retail stores, ‘cypress swamp’ and other attractions, in Memphis, Tennessee. (Courtesy photo)

Bass Pro Shops has drawn roughly 3 million visitors to its Pyramid complex of restaurants, retail stores, ‘cypress swamp’ and other attractions, in Memphis, Tennessee. (Courtesy photo)

The stand-alone site, part of a chain headquartered in Springfield, Missouri, falls in the category of destination shopping. It’s not on the scale of Minnesota’s Mall of America or Dubai’s Mall of Emirates, which represent numerous retailers and draw international crowds. Instead, it’s comparable to Cabela’s, another U.S. chain specializing in outdoor equipment, or Ohio grocer Jungle Jim’s International  Market, both with a singular focus and at least regional appeal.

“Somebody would make a concerted effort to get there,” explains Jesse Tron, spokesman for the International Council of Shopping Centers (ICSC). He added, “This is a niche component within the industry.”

Bass Pro Shops launched Outdoor World in April 2015 in the Pyramid, a giant structure that opened in 1991 as a sports and entertainment complex but sat vacant from 2004. The company got tax breaks from Memphis to redevelop the site.

In its first year, it drew 3 million people from all 50 states and at least a dozen countries, manager David Hagel said.

Chris Horsley of Texarkana, Texas, watches his children take aim at the shooting gallery in Bass Pro Shops at the Pyramid, a retail center in Memphis, Tennessee. From left are Jordana, Christa, Corbin and Mason. (C. Guensburg/VOA)

Chris Horsley of Texarkana, Texas, watches his children take aim at the shooting gallery in Bass Pro Shops at the Pyramid, a retail center in Memphis, Tennessee. From left are Jordana, Christa, Corbin and Mason. (C. Guensburg/VOA)

Spectacle and sales bring people in

Chris Horsley and Emily Haaland brought their four children from Texarkana, Texas, testing their skills at the Bass Pro shooting arcade and later taking the elevator – at $10 for adults and $5 for kids – to The Lookout restaurant. “It’s a little vacation,” Haaland said during their [February] visit.

Cody Cox of Paragould, Arkansas, drove two hours with a couple of buddies, lured by a sale on outdoor sporting equipment. He left with a Rich N Tone duck call. His pal Joe Whitman found a carbon rod and reel marked at half price.

Sites like Outdoor World are likely to get repeat business, though infrequent, Tron said. But customers “spend significantly more time and money because of the effort to get there.”

To draw crowds, Bass Pro Shops also organizes special events, such as the World’s Hunting and Waterfowl Expo last October or the upcoming U.S. Open Bowfishing Championship in July.

They can stay at the elegantly rustic Big Cypress Lodge, with some “treetop” cabins and 103 rooms. Many have porches, and rockers, overlooking the surreal landscape of fake 100-foot cypress trees in an eerie twilight. At least lodgers don’t need sunscreen or bug spray.

Perhaps the biggest hit has been the ground-floor General Store. As of late April, its fudge counter had dispensed 27 tons of fudge.

Carol Guensburg
Carol Guensburg is a Washington-based VOA writer and editor. Contact her at cguensburg@voanews.com.

3 responses to “Tennessee Pyramid Brings Outdoors Inside”

  1. Bill Webb says:

    I went to Cabella’s in Phoenix. It’s not shopping, it’s a whole world unto itself. You can get anything that is “outdoors” but bring your wallet.

  2. Brianna Mordecai says:

    How much is it to stay in a room

  3. Bill Anderson says:

    I was a long time Memphis TV reporter and was there in the city council chambers the day they decided to build the Pyramid. It was the biggest white elephant waste of money in the history of Memphis at the time, and remained so for decades. FINALLY, Bass Pro came along and the city of Memphis found a good use for the structure. It only took them 30+ years to do it, but I’m glad the building is finally getting used for something worthwhile. Bass Pro is a great company. You should see their headquarters store in Springfield, MO.

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