Travis Mathis and Joseph Church grabbed their luggage and camping gear and drove three hours to Garner Monday afternoon, hoping to be one of the first to get a glimpse at the inside of the state’s first Cabela’s outdoors megastore.
The two, who came from Wilkes County, ended up being the first in a line of people that extended around the parking lot in anticipation of Thursday’s grand opening. Despite the drizzling rain, more than 3,000 – many dressed in camouflage gear and rain boots – brought umbrellas and lawn chairs and waited for the store at White Oak Crossing to open.
Church took the week off and stayed in line the entire time while Mathis, a construction worker, went to work in Chapel Hill on Monday and Tuesday, Mathis said. By Wednesday, Mathis noticed people lining up, so he called in sick. He said he had never been to a Cabela’s and this was an opportunity he could not miss.
“I just love the outdoors,” Mathis said. “I sleep outside all the time under the stars with my dog. We had everything we needed here. My friend slept at night and me during the daytime.”
Church, who works at a Wilkes County body shop, said he was just happy his boss let him come.
“My boss man was excited for me,” he said. “He said ‘You only live once. Go for it.’ So I went.”
He said he was most looking forward to getting the $500 gift card Cabela’s was giving away to the first few hundred people in line.
Early Thursday morning, an employee handed out Chick-Fil-A biscuits, and those in line took selfies with the Jack Link’s Sasquatch and N.C. State University’s Mr. and Mrs. Wuf.
The opening ceremony started with a ribbon-cutting that involved a Cabela’s employee shooting an arrow from atop a 25-foot high tripod. The shooter hit the target, the crowd went wild and no one was hurt.
Audrey Howell, a business owner, and her daughter Brianna Slaughter, 13, both of Benson, were also among the first few in line. They arrived at the store Wednesday morning and camped out for a night. Howell’s parents brought them food and coffee.
“Growing up in Kansas, I grew up hunting and fishing with my dad, and I raised her the same way,” Howell said, pointing at her daughter. “She won second place in the turkey shoot with a shotgun.”
Brianna said she wanted to buy another shotgun for hunting or a .22-caliber handgun.
Tommy Millner, CEO of Nebraska-based Cabela’s, said he chose Garner for the state’s first store because research shows that most of the company’s North Carolina online customers were from the eastern part of the state.
Millner, who used to live near High Point, said one of his goals had been to get a Cabela’s in North Carolina.
“There were thousands of people at the front door, and this just validates what we already knew about where our customers were from,” Millner said. “I hope we make an impact on this community. Typically, Cabela’s is the impetus for further development as more stores tend to follow us. So we will be an economic development driver here in Garner.”
As customers filed into the store with smiles on their faces, they were greeted by employees who gave them high fives.
Employee Jennifer Cameron, 54, of Apex, was just as happy as the customers. She smiled broadly and gave hugs to some as they came in, welcoming them.
“Yes, I’ve been waiting for this. This is just amazing,” she said. “This is a phenomenal company.”
The grand opening will extend throughout the weekend.