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Illinois hunting and fishing

Photos by Fred Zwicky.

Bass Pro Shops planning star-studded opening event

August 09, 2011 at 07:03 AM

Peoria Journal-Star

It’s not every day Pekin resident Robert Brain can hammer together the materials used to construct a restaurant inside a blue bowling alley with mermaid and exotic fish statues all around him.

“This is great, isn’t it? Brain said Monday. “Where else do you get to do stuff like this?”

Brain’s excitement is the result of what’s taking place inside the region’s most highly anticipated retail shopping store in quite some time.

But despite the obvious progress - merchandise, such as a display of Redhead flannels already are laid out - general manager Jim Goff knows a lot of work needs to be done before the Sept. 21 grand opening weekend at the East Peoria Bass Pro Shops.

Illinois hunting and fishing

He knows the pressure is on.

“You can’t go anywhere with your (Bass Pro Shops) shirt on without being stopped and being asked questions,” Goff said. “It’s a huge interest. I’ve never seen so much interest (in a new store).”

The buzz could be felt inside the store Monday, where a flurry of activity was going on. Carpenters, like Brain, were putting the finishing touches to Uncle Buck’s Fishbowl & Grill; new employees and employee hopefuls were being shown around the store; and workers scrambled to place merchandise in proper areas.

Chairs, restaurant tables and other features throughout the store still are wrapped up. A giant swordfish, greeting visitors entering the bowling alley, is in bubble wrap.

Illinois hunting and fishing

Workers only can come in and out of the entrance at Uncle Buck’s, which is only the second aquarium-themed restaurant/12-lane bowling alley combination within the Bass Pro Shops chain. The first one was built in Altoona, Iowa.

“It will give you a sense of bowling under the water,” company spokeswoman Katie Mitchell said. “Complete with casual dining. It’s a fun, family atmosphere and has proved successful in Altoona.”

Illinois hunting and fishing

Mitchell is working on the final touches to a grand opening event on Sept. 21. Celebrities such as baseball Hall of Famer Andre Dawson, NASCAR drivers Tony Stewart and Jamie McMurray, and local hunting legend Mel Johnson will be in attendance.

For every $1 spent at the store from 6 to 9 p.m. that night, 50 cents will go toward a local conservation cause. The company has yet to determine how that money will be spent.

Illinois hunting and fishing

After that, East Peoria Bass Pro Shops will remain open and operating with approximately 350 new employees.

“We’re still hiring right now,” Goff said.

The East Peoria store, which is leveraged by taxpayers, will be 150,000 square feet once it’s open, or the equivalent of 3 1/2 football fields.

Last year, East Peoria city officials agreed to issue $45 million in general obligation bonds to build the road leading to Bass Pro Shops, the store itself and parking lot. In return, Bass Pro Shops will pay rent or 2 percent of its gross sales for each year of the 20-year lease.


When: 6 to 9 p.m. Sept. 21

Where: Bass Pro Shops, East Peoria

Celebrities in attendance: baseball Hall of Famer Andre Dawson; NASCAR drivers Tony Stewart, Jamie McMurray and Austin Dillon; fishing icon Jimmy Houston; Bassmaster Elite Series Show co-host Mark Zona; “Relentless Pursuit” host Tim Wells; and Mel Johnson, who killed a 13-point whitetail in 1965 in Peoria County. Autographs are free.

Benefit: During the evening, 50 cents of every $1 spent at Bass Pro Shops will go toward a yet-to-be-determined local conservation cause.

John Sharp can be reached at 686-3282 or .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address). Follow him on Twitter @JohnSharp99.

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