Traffic through the Maine Turnpike exit 42 interchange was up 14 percent, and the brand-new, 1,200-space parking lot was full to capaciy as Scarborough’s much-heralded Cabela’s retail outlet opened its doors Thursday at 5 p.m.

And when the store re-opened Friday morning, hundreds of people lined up in the parking lot at 8. The celebrities, displays, giveaways, special exhibits and dioramas kept the visitors coming throughout the weekend.

“We were extremely pleased with the reception we’ve received,” said Cabella’s spokesman John Castillo. “All in all it’s been a very successful opening for us. It’s been an exciting time and a great day for us.”

“I guess to people in the area, it was like the second coming of Christ,” said Jeff Messer, Scarborough Town Council chairman, who attended an invitation-only ceremony Thursday afternoon. “It’s like the Super Bowl for people who are into hunting and fishing in this state.”

While the majority of vehicles in the parking lot bore Maine tags, there were a smattering from Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Vermont, New York and farther afield. Cabella’s expects about half the visitors to the outlet to travel 10 miles or more.

Among the early bird shoppers, several said Cabella’s has more variety and better prices than Maine’s own L.L. Bean, and that the Scarborough store is easier to access than L.L. Bean’s flagship store in Freeport.

“It’s easier to get to the parking. They did it right,” said Natasha Creaser of Auburn, who waited at a dog training exhibit outdoors with her husband, Peter, and son Max, 5. L.L. Bean, she said, is closer to home, but harder to get to because of traffic headaches.

Although the family was just browsing, they did purchase a bag full of items – dog training supplies, a fishing pole for Max and Father’s Day gifts.

Kathy Witham of Milo and Lorraine Smith of Eliot chose the store as a spot to meet up with Smith’s husband after a few days’ visit together. They got their pictures taken together in front of the two-story indoor mountain showcasing Maine wildlife, and Witham, who works in a school, went camera crazy, taking pictures of the wildlife displays for her elementary school students at home.

“They’ll love seeing those pictures!” she promised.

John Arsenault of Saco dropped in on a whim, but said he plans to be back.

“I’m just browsing right now to see what they have,” he said. “I’ve read the (catalog) and stuff and knew it was going to be nice.”

Although some customers questioned the wisdom of opening a new retail store during an economic downturn, Cabela’s seems to be largely immune to this year’s economic woes. On May 1, the retailer reported first quarter results up 15.9 percent over 2007, and said it plans to follow the opening of its Scarborough store with an outlet in South Dakota in the coming weeks.

Town officials said that though the 30,000 visitors Cabella’s was anticipating may not have materialized, the crowd was certainly robust.

“It was a pretty good-sized crowd,” said Town Manager Ron Owens. “I think if you’re a serious hunter or fisherman, it’s definitely going to be the store you want to go to, whether you live 10 miles away or 150 miles away.”

Several Maine-based retailers have opened shops along the edges of the Cabela’s plaza, hoping to capitalize on the outdoor retailer’s draw.

Business was “very good,” reported the manager at the new Freaky Bean coffee shop, who calls himself “Jonesey.” “It’s not 100 percent where I want it … but we’re very busy.”

Haven’s Candies’ new store had to reorder gelato and was seeing its salt-water taffy disappear at a remarkable rate.

“We’ve been very pleased. They did a great job with traffic,” said owner Andy Charles.

He said Cabela’s draw had allowed him to introduce Maine sweets to people who had never heard of Haven’s.

“To the people who are into hunting and fishing and outdoor activities, this is Mecca, I guess,” he said.

Scarborough police reported no major traffic hassles over the weekend. Cabela’s paid to reconfigure much of the area around the exit 42 intersection to accommodate the increased traffic its store is expected to generate.

Founded in 1961, Cabela’s is now one of the world’s top catalog retailers and operates retail destination stores throughout the country. The company produces more than 76 different catalogs per year, shipping 120 million of them to all 50 states and 120 countries. The company also has credit, Internet and outdoor adventure consulting divisions.

The 130,000-square-foot Scarborough store is expected to attract 3 million visitors a year and has created about 300 local jobs, 95 percent of them staffed by locals, Castillo said.


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