Sunday, October 26, 2014 · 1:07 a.m.
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Many area hunters and fishermen say they like Sportsman's Warehouse because the store supports local conservation causes, such as this recruitment drive for Ducks Unlimited. (From left to right) DU supporter Ross Malone, DU Regional Director Charlie Lowery, Sportsman's Warehouse General Manager Jim Rhodes and DU supporter Cameron Mitchell. (Photo: Richard Simms)

Chattanooga-area sportsmen offered up a mixed review following news of a new outdoors store coming to town.

On Monday, Nooga.com shared the news of a Gander Mountain store coming to Hixson, scheduled to open in fall 2014. 

According to the Facebook link on the news story, more than 900 people "liked" the news, an extraordinarily high number. With the addition of Gander Mountain, Chattanooga now provides a wide selection of outdoors-oriented retailers to choose from, including major chain stores and a few "mom and pops."

Of course, Walmart has always been an old reliable. Although not catering so much to hunters and fishermen, Rock/Creek Outfitters was born in Chattanooga. Then came Dick's Sporting Goods, which provided a new alternative for folks searching for hunting and fishing gear. Then, in 2006, Sportsman's Warehouse opened. A few years later, they were followed by two Academy Sports & Outdoors locations. And now comes Gander Mountain.

In 2003, then-Mayor Bob Corker had an outdoor vision, saying he wanted Chattanooga to become "the Boulder, Colo., of the East."

It's hard to say exactly how the general public feels about that, but it is clear that some major retailers have decided the market is here. As the Gander Mountain slogan says, "We live outdoors."

We wondered, however, exactly how area hunters and fishermen feel about a new outdoors store in town. We asked on Facebook, "Can we have too much of a good thing, or is it the more the merrier? Which store is your favorite now and why?"

Nearly two dozen sportsmen weighed in. What I found from this very informal survey—admittedly skewed based upon my network of Facebook friends—is that a lot of area hunters and fishermen (about half who responded) have at least some loyalty to Sportsman's Warehouse. They say the store and its managers go out of the way to support local sportsmen and conservation groups.

"I support Sportsman's Warehouse because they support Ducks Unlimited, not just as a corporation, but the managers are involved locally," Chris Sanders said. 

"I support and shop Sportsman's because they give an awful lot back to this community, and I appreciate that from a retailer," Neil Magnussen said. "They take my dollars and reinvest them."

Jimmy McGowan said: "I'll check [Gander Mountain] out but will probably still shop at Sportsman's Warehouse. Selection may be less, but customer service wins every time."

Next to Sportsman's Warehouse, several fishermen expressed great support for the mom and pop stores, including Hamilton's on Highway 58, Jack's Bait & Tackle and Soddy Custom Tackle. These especially appeared to have a following.

Hardcore fisherman Brian Howard said: "Soddy Custom Tackle is the only place I can find anything, plus they know fishing. Please move across the lake to my side!"

Frank Blair seemed to sum up the news about Gander Mountain.

"From the comments I have read, it seems like Gander Mountain has an uphill climb coming to the Nooga," he said.

The fact is, however, that hunters and fishermen are somewhat of a minority among the outdoors users in the area. There are just as many, or more, campers, hikers, bikers, runners, climbers and paddlers—and like Gander Mountain, they all "live outdoors." You can bet that the folks who make decisions about where to invest their dollars have a very good idea of what the Chattanooga market offers.

Personally, I'm a huge believer in free enterprise, competition and choices. I might have a favorite store, but I'm more likely to make my buying choices based on products offered, price and convenient location. Gander Mountain will be on the wrong side of the river for me, but I still say, "Welcome to Chattanooga."

Richard Simms is a contributing writer, focusing on outdoor sports. The opinions expressed in this column belong solely to the author, not Nooga.com or its employees.

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