Bass Pro Shop Is Coming: How Excited Should We Be?

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DECATUR, Ala. (WHNT) - The deal is out there, Bass Pro Shop will be locating one of its mega-stores near the intersection of Highway 20 and Interstate 65.  Business leaders in Decatur are excited, and for that matter, so are hunters and fishermen from across north Alabama.

Bass Pro Shop is an all needs store, and almost a tourist attraction. "You can buy hooks and bullets in a lot of places, but none of them look like a store like Bass Pro Shops. You know the official memorandum says we're part amusement park, part museum, part retail store. That's absolutely true," says Eric Alford, manager of the Bass Pro Shop in Prattville.

Prattville is a smaller town than Decatur. It's not on a body of water anywhere near as attractive to fishermen as the Tennessee River.  Prattville is about 150 miles south of Decatur on Interstate 65, and it has had a Bass Pro Shop since 2007.

Downtown Prattville is a sleepy reminder of what the city was like in the middle of the last century.  Don Strength is the owner and operator of the Red Arrow Hardware store in downtown Prattville.  He's been running the store for 43 years.

"When I moved here in 1946, this was Prattville right here. Main Street was Prattville. Look at it and see, it has gone crazy," said Strength.

Strength isn't talking about downtown, but rather the area between where his store is and Interstate 65. The bustling four-lane highway is bordered by dozens of stores, restaurants, gas stations and hotels. Where the road intersects with the interstate, is where you find the Bass Pro Shop.

Thousands of shoppers pass through the store's two-story lobby every week. They see the stuffed Grizzly Bear, and they're welcomed to the store by a greeter.  What they experience is 130,000 square feet of store crammed with anything and everything a hunter, fisherman, or outdoorsman could desire.

"Getting everything I need for hunting season, for fishing season," is why Zac Drunkard says he and his dad regularly drive 50 miles to shop at Bass Pro.  In fact, Bass Pro Shop touts the fact that customers will drive between 50 and 100 miles to shop there.

Bass Pro Shop customers know why they like the store. The question is, how do the people of Prattville, from average joe to business leader, feel about their Bass Pro Shop?

"It's a good deal, but it could have been better," says Prattville Mayor Bill Gillespie.

To bring in Bass Pro Shops and a nearby shopping center, the city of Prattville spent more than $13 million for the land and infrastructure improvements.As a city council member, Mayor Bill Gillespie approved the deal.

"I would have had a little more local government involvement," Gillespie said.

The problem is--the part of Prattville where Bass Pro is located is the small part of the city in Elmore County. Because of past disagreements, Elmore County didn't contribute to the deal. Autauga County, where most of Prattville is located, also didn't help.

Back out on the highway, between the shop and downtown, this city of 34,000 appears to be booming. That's also part of the deal.

"The residual effect they're going to be having on the city of Prattville is worth the deal on it," Gillespie said. The mayor cites restaurants, and hotels and gas stations as all directly benefitting.

But what about old downtown Prattville. That's where Don Strength has been running Red Arrow Hardware for 43 years.

"I think its's one of the greatest things that ever happened to the city of Prattville," Strength said. Don says that's the feedback he gets from his customers.

Another positive aspect the outdoor retailer brings to town -- tourists.

"They come in, they spend the night sometimes which helps our lodging tax, which helps the chamber, which helps the community and then they come into our downtown, which is what we want, to come all the way into our beautiful downtown," said Patty Vanderwall, Prattville Chamber of Commerce president.

People in Prattville expect a lot from Bass Pro Shops. Then again, so does a customer we talked to who traveled nearly 50 miles to shop.

"I have all men in my family. They all hunt, they all fish...Bass Pro Shop," said customer Gennela Bedsole.

The store sells itself. The Prattville residents we talked to really believe it's also selling their city.

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