By Anna-Marie Menhenott
PORT ST. LUCIE -- Johnny Morris started out selling fishing bait out of his father's liquor store in Springfield, Missouri.
By 1971, Mr. Morris had incorporated the brand Bass Pro Shop, and in 1974, the first mail-order catalog was mailed. The once single-shelf of fishing supplies turned into one of the world's premiere retailers of fishing lures, Tracker boats, hunting and fishing gear and everything else that an outdoorsman could imagine.
Bass Pro Shop's has more than 70 existing and proposed stores across the United States and Canada, with the newest location right here on the Treasure Coast.
"This area is a prime location for a Bass Pro Shop," said Craig Scarborough, general manager.
"There are so many opportunities for residents and visitors to fish, hunt and enjoy the beauty of the area. So many people camp, spend time on the river, lakes or ocean, and what better way to give them everything they need to enjoy the area to its full potential."
The 90,000-square foot building is a wonder to see. The walls have been hand-painted in a local wildlife motif. Local pictures of areas such as the Savannas were used as a guide by a team of painters who painstakingly covered every inch of the interior. The final product will leave shoppers in awe.
The wildlife scenes throughout the store include feral hogs romping through rural area, bobcats, turkeys, alligators, deer and even a hammerhead shark swimming through a Spanish galleon. The taxidermied animals give the realistic appearance of life in the wild.
"Each Bass Pro Shop is tailored to the specific area," Mr. Scarborough said. "We have a 13,000 gallon fish tank that will hold fish from the area such as snook, jack and grouper. The animals featured around the store are animals that are found in some back yards. You won't find the same things here that you would find in a store in the northeast. There are no moose here. And, you won't find alligators in a store in upstate New York."
The store offers a vast array of merchandise, from shoes and clothes hunting apparel and pink camouflage to hunting and camping equipment like tents, sleeping bags, outdoor cooking equipment, to guns and scopes, knives, traps and even smokers and grinders for any meat that may be caught.
"We don't just want a hunter to capture an animal. Any animal should have a use. We sell smokers and grinders and equipment for those who process the meat to feed themselves or their families," Mr. Scarborough said.
The store is probably best known for the massive amount of fishing supplies offered at each location.
Each department is manned with friendly sales team members who have knowledge of the area and who are willing to help customers pick the proper products for their needs.
"We have about 250 employees all from this area." Mr. Scarborough said. "Each team member knows the surroundings and can offer a lot of advice regarding fishing, camping or hunting the local area. If someone comes in and is a novice fisherman, our team members will gladly give advice on how to get ready for a day of fishing. From the proper pole, to the right hooks to the correct bait for the fish they're looking for, to the best spots to hook a big one, we're here to help."
The more experienced angler can find everything from cast nets, to poles for deep-sea excursions, to boats for bass fishing all the way to boats that can cross the Atlantic to the Bahamas.
"We have an extensive line of boats," Mr. Scarborough said. "We have a lot in stock and what's not here can be here at the drop of a hat. There's also a service department for boats and for those who need to pick up a fishing or hunting license before heading out, they can also do that at the store."
The store is rounded out with a novelty and gift department which offers some of the most unique gifts around. The endless list of novelty items can be summed up in one word: unbelievable.
The store held a grand opening on Wednesday, Oct. 23 and is now open to the public.
Store hours are Monday through Saturday, from 9 a.m. - 9 p.m. and on Sunday from 10 a.m. - 7 p.m.
For more information, visit www.basspro.com