Bass Pro Shops Pyramid: Over the top in Memphis

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MEMPHIS–I put cruise control on our Escort–who needs cow horns on a Cadillac, John Hiatt?–and rolled down I-40 into Memphis in the meantime Sunday morning.

Can I get a hallelujah?

I walked into something as divinely decadent in the outdoors as the streets of gold in heaven: Bass Pro Shops Pyramid.

Bass Pro founder Johnny Morris, deity of outdoors retail, stretched and took over the Pyramid, former arena home of the Grizzlies, and turned it into an outdoors destination of international import.

“Today, I ran into people from all over the world:, Sweden, Japan, Canada, the U.K,,’’ assistant general manager Jeff Warren said on Sunday.

It’s like nothing on this earth.

Think I am writing over the top? Not even close, brothers and sisters. This is a place that has an unblushing entry sign of “Welcome to Paradise.’’

There’s even a sacred text: the catfish story.

Morris was catfishing with Tennessee fishing god Bill Dance and the late Jack Emmitt, Bass Pro’s first fishing manager, on the Mississippi River in 2005. Morris told them he would build a store inside the Pyramid if they caught a 30-pound catfish. With an hour to go, Emmitt caught the big blue catfish and Morris said, “It’s a deal.’’

Two main entrances come off parking lots that hold 1,200 spots. On a weekend day, since it opened April 29, crowds match capacity at Wrigley Field or Sox Park.

Here are the facts from Warren: It’s on 18 acres of land with usable square footage of 535,000 with 21 million cubic feet of volume. Let me translate. Standing on the third floor, the hum from the main floor matches the sound of a hot restaurant or night club.

This is far beyond an outdoors retail store.

There’s alligators in a pit; the 7-foot alligator gar Allie G; 25 aisles of fishing stuff; apparel departments that match traditional box stores; a gun area so busy Warren said it reminds him of “Black Friday;’’ boat sales with the first NITRO Z21; the largest retail waterfowl department in the world; the Ducks Unlimited Waterfowling Heritage Center; the Big Cypress Lodge (yes, an embedded lodge) and Uncle Buck’s FishBowl & Grill (food and fish-themed bowling).

Good God y’all, Edwin Starr.

At the top, the Lookout allows stunning views of the Mississippi. The Lookout, opening in increments, already has long lines (think Willis Tower) waiting to ascend, some 3,600 a day on weekends.

“Mr. Morris has other ideas,’’ food and beverage manager Christopher Johnson said. “He has mentioned putting a zip-line in.’’

That had Johnson dreaming: “We could have a cocktail reception up here, then they could zip-line down and do a plate dinner on Mud Island.’’

Anything seems possible here.

The thing on this earth that matters to me I noticed walking in from the parking lot: I am used to the clientele of the big-box outdoor retailers looking similar to me.

“A whole different clientele is getting to experience Bass Pro in an urban community,’’ Warren said.

That matters. If hunting, fishing and camping are to remain a potent social force, they need to include a more urban mix.

This is an outdoors destination indoors, one well worth the eight-hour drive from Chicago.

It fits perfectly in the mix of Americana that is Memphis. Bass Pro meet Graceland.


STRAY CAST: My beating Mark Brown in morel hunting (16-skunked, if you must know) happens only slightly more frequently than the Cubs winning something major.

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