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Published: Monday, 8/30/2010

Dundee business growth cools after surge when Cabela's first came

BY LARRY P. VELLEQUETTE
BLADE BUSINESS WRITER

DUNDEE, Mich. - It opened a decade ago this month with the pomp of an amusement park and the promise of near limitless potential.

Outdoor retailer Cabela's, it was predicted, would transform sleepy little Dundee into a tourist destination rivaling Cedar Point or Mackinac Island. The 225,000-square-foot retail store would draw as many as 6 million visitors from across the United States through its doors each year, state officials proclaimed, and would sprout surrounding businesses like a sprinkler across a freshly seeded lawn.

Some of that has happened in the 10 years since the store opened, but Michigan's economic malaise and increased competition from other retailers have brought a much more subdued, sustainable outlook to the village 25 miles northeast of Toledo.

"Cabela's put Dundee on the map," argued Patrick Burtch, Dundee's longtime administrator, and one of the men who helped clear the path for the retailer to build in Dundee back in 1999. "It got [developers] to notice Dundee when they hadn't before."

Bonnie Lymond helps Christine Ost of Deefield, Mich., make a selection at the Russell Stover store that opened near Cabela's six years ago. Bonnie Lymond helps Christine Ost of Deefield, Mich., make a selection at the Russell Stover store that opened near Cabela's six years ago.
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In the last 10 years:

• At least 40 new businesses have sprung up from the former farm fields within a half-mile radius of the store.

• Added were about 650 housing units to the 1,477 the village had in 2000, an increase of 44 percent.

• Dundee's population has grown from 3,522 recorded during the 2000 census to an estimated 4,600 this year, an increase of 31 percent;

• The local school district passed a bond issue for, and built, a $30 million high school, thanks in large part to the explosive growth that occurred in the immediate wake of Cabela's opening;

• Chrysler selected the village in 2003 to build a $400 million engine plant and again in 2004 to expand that plant.

The engine factory, called Global Engine Manufacturing Alliance, helped spur the housing growth, Mr. Burtch said.

"I think it got developers excited that there was something that they might have missed," he said. "People want to see excitement."

Michigan does not have complete statistics on major tourist attractions to determine whether Cabela's is the state's biggest draw. Still, the store nurtured growth.

Silver Bells, a Christmas-themed store on Tecumseh Street on the east side of U.S. 23, opened in 2001, hoping to attract the female companions of Cabela's predominantly male customers.

Bess Rhodin of Wickford, R.I., shops at Silver Bells. Bess Rhodin of Wickford, R.I., shops at Silver Bells.
THE BLADE/ANDY MORRISON Enlarge | Buy This Photo

Co-owner Shelley Shaffer, who lives in the Toledo suburb of Oregon, said the outdoor retailer brought people to the Dundee area and helped it to grow.

"At the beginning, every time Cabela's had a sale, my sales went up. But I can't say that anymore,” Mrs. Shaffer said, saying that her Christmas store has become its own destination.

“Cabela's certainly brings a lot of people to town, but a lot of people have found out about Silver Bells,” Mrs. Shaffer said. “I do think at Christmas time, we talk about walking over to Cabela's with a big sandwich board, telling people that we're here too.”

Russell Stover Candies Stores, which opened a location near Cabela's six years ago, likes being close to the outdoor retailer.

A Russell Stover store has opened near the last half dozen or so Cabela's stores that were built, said Mike Kloostra, manager of the Dundee store.

Customers often comment that while the men visit Cabela's, the women are at Russell Stover, he said.

“‘It works out for both of us to come,'” Mr. Koostra said their refrain is. He added: “It brings people.”

Mike Zielinski is one of a shrinking number of Cabela's employees in Dundee who have been at the second-largest among the chain's 29 stores since it opened 10 years ago as the retailer's seventh store. Only the store in Hamburg, Pa., at 255,000 square feet, is bigger.

“There are 87 of us left,” said Mr. Zielinski, who is one of the store's managers.

Those original staff members were recognized this month.

Shortly after it opened, Cabela's attracted hundreds of cars plus a few tour buses. Shortly after it opened, Cabela's attracted hundreds of cars plus a few tour buses.
ZAPOTOSKY / BLADE Enlarge

The store recently completed a major interior renovation that cost “over a million dollars,” he said. The store still has a strong attraction.

Even though the Dundee store has been open for 10 years, Gary and JoAnn Schank of Bad Axe, Mich., in the Thumb area of the state, had never ventured to Dundee to visit before they did so this month.

“I used to order a lot of stuff out of the catalog, but I've always been curious about what it looked like,” Mr. Schank said after spending nearly three hours recently roaming around the store. “I wished I lived a little closer. I just spent a little more than what I planned on.”

Although Mrs. Schank didn't spend any money, she enjoyed showing her grandchildren the store's hundreds of stuffed animals and its live fish.

“It's better than the zoo, because you can't make the animals in the zoo stand still for pictures,” she joked.

Ken Hines of Rockville, Md., is a typical Cabela's customer, in that the avid outdoorsman makes a regular pilgrimage to the store to stock up on supplies. In his case, he stops in Dundee as part of a fishing trip each summer to Muskegeon, Mich.

“I was glad when this store opened, because it was on the way. Now we stop two times a year; once on the way up, and once on the way back,” said Mr. Hines.

The near-explosion of retail near the store has stalled, largely because of the dire Michigan and national economy.

The effect on Cabela's of the downturn and the arrival of competitors is difficult to gauge.

The store's officials fully expected that completion of a new 165,000-square-foot Bass Pro Shops store in Rossford — about 30 miles away — would cut into Cabela's sales when it opened in July, 2009. Mr. Zielinski contends that didn't happen.

He said that although the economy and increased competition in the marketplace have taken some of the edge off Cabela's tourist draw to Dundee, the store increased its sales by 3 percent in 2009 and is improving its bottom line again this year.

Blade staff writer Julie McKinnon contributed to this story.

Contact Larry P. Vellequette at:

lvellequette@theblade.com

or 419-724-6091.



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