A 100,000-plus-square-foot Cabela's outdoor store will open its doors next week, the latest in a series of new attractions at an evolving Christiana Mall.
For the uninitiated, Cabela's is a massive shopping mecca for outdoors enthusiasts interested in hunting, fishing, and camping. The store will feature an archery range and a mini-restaurant, dubbed the Brandywine Grill, that will serve wild game like bison, elk and boar burgers.
The store, which will host its official grand opening on May 1, recently hired 250 new employees known in Cabela's corporate lingo as "outfitters." Among those chosen was Rick Carpenter, a native Delawarean hired as an archery outfitter.
"I am a hunter myself, always bow-hunted," said Carpenter. He said the store will offer plenty to see, even for those who aren't traditionally outdoors-oriented.
"Even if you're not here to buy products, it's a great experience," he said. "A lot of mounts around here, museum-quality mounts, and we have a grill back there, a huge mountain scene, we got something for everyone."
Closer to customers
Although it will be located in the Christiana Mall's parking lot, Cabela's will be considered an anchor store like Macy's or JCPenny's. It's part of Cabela's new focus on building stores closer to their customers, as many of their older stores were built closer to rural areas.
"It's a win-win for everybody in the community, as we introduce new people to the outdoors experience, whether we're a retailer or just for the tourism business in the state," said General Manager Mike Adlesh.
Cabela's fans are famously loyal: Some Delaware shoppers would drive hours to visit the closest location in Hamburg, Pa. At present, there's hope that those passionate Cabela's fans will expand their shopping excursions into the mall itself.
"The Christiana Mall has become a great partner for us," said Adlesh. "You can spend an entire day in this area, shopping, not only at Cabela's, but at the mall as well.
For Christiana Mall general manager Steve Chambliss, Cabela's fits perfectly at the mall.
"It's a point of difference for us," he said, "that's why we wanted it."
The opening of Cabela's is just the latest step in a massive overhaul of the shopping center.
The transition began in 2007, when both Lord and Taylor and Strawbridge's shut their doors. While most malls would consider the loss of those anchors as a major threat to the center's viability, Christiana Mall leaders saw it as an opportunity.
"With the two closed anchors, we were able to get some real estate back," said Chambliss.
That space eventually welcomed Target and Nordstrom. At the same time, the rest of the mall was remodeled, featuring a revamped new food court and a playground.
"It was multi-faceted, and all of it was to make the mall more current," he said.
Along with the remodel came a new policy that required young people to be accompanied by adults while in the mall during certain hours on the weekends. While that policy that drew some protest at the time, Chambliss said it was the right call.
"It's been very positive, it's changed the image, and it's made the mall a shopping destination and not just necessarily for hanging out or meeting your friends here," he explained. "It's that too, but on certain nights, just because of the volume, we needed to kinda tighten up the controls a little bit."
In the years since, the mall has grown more high-end and is now at full retail capacity, all during a down economy. Mall officials believe the mall's ability to improve and expand during a recession had a lot to do with being in the right location.
"We're right in a really great niché," Chambliss said. "As we decided to expand the property, that was one of those basic things, just like you moved into the right neighborhood, we knew we had what we needed to develop and that the mall had growth potential."
As Cabela's opens its doors, work is underway on the next amenity at the mall, a 12 screen CineMark movie theater that replaces a five screen theater that closed years ago.
"Now with the changing environment, we think we can support one again." Chambliss said. "So they’re bringing one back, but with all the highly technical things that are available in the movie industry now."
The theater should open its doors around the start of November, just in time for the holiday season.
And, a little further into the future, construction will commence on additional stores. Just outside the mall's property, preliminary work is underway on the Christiana Fashion Center. The 200,000-square-foot outdoor shopping center could possibly include stores like Nordstrom Rack, along with restaurants.
While the shopping center is not connected to the mall physically, or business-wise, Chambliss welcomes the addition.
"We think they'll just create a bigger destination, although we're not going to get credit for the sales, but we'll get the added traffic coming to the market, so it's good with us too," he said.
That added traffic leads to the next issue to face the mall: Where will these new shoppers park?
The likely answer will be a parking garage, which could be developed in the next few years.