A Trip to Cabela’s: A Critique
After a delicious Chinese meal, my family decided we’d spend some time wandering the vast spaces of the nearby Cabela’s. I wasn’t interested at first, by a stuffed wolf near the storefront window intrigued me. What followed inside functions has a top brass store, but often also feels like a mixture of a playground and a museum.
I don’t say that to mock the place. For people into all sorts of expensive outdoors adventures, its probably a one-stop shopping paradise. For my fiancé and I on the other hand, we do not have such vested interests, so instead we perused the store with an outsider’s perspective. We traveled throughout the building, observing model tents, snuggling expensive sleeping bags, examining safes, touring the gun library (yes, a gun library,) and much more as we went about the aisles. The way this particular store is laid out felt like a children’s playground. (I’m sure it’s not the only one.) Aisles were plentiful and tight just enough to feel like you were exploring. The store’s interior was vast enough to allow for plenty of new territory to traverse. The large displays of animal taxidermy allowed you to view the animals of North America (bears, deer, elk, squirrels, you name it,) while the aquarium of trout and other fish provided live entertainment as well. While you walk throughout the store, you feel the same feeling as if you’re exploring the wilderness, and I have no doubt that’s the intention.
The various stuffed animals lining the walls, the large centerpiece store display, or even hanging out in trees seemingly sprouting up from the the middle of an aisle bring a sense of wonder to the place. You could seriously learn your North American wildlife just from looking around. The displays were still out of reach for touching, but still felt more intimate when placed in a location of commerce instead of intellectual enjoyment.
Of the various products, my fiancé noted that the plain colored, though high quality, simple tops for women were specifically placed near the front of the store so women could shop while their husbands or boyfriends were busy stocking up. I thought is was a great insight, because it’s true: there’s something for sale for nearly everyone there. With large stocks high quality footwear (hiking, running, dress), gear (hunting, fishing, camping), guns (So THAT’S what a .44 magnum looks like), and more, there’s something for everyone, including the kids.
While I mentioned that this store seems to have something for everyone, I need to add that the only people shopping at the store were white.* All of the marketing materials for the store and video products were white, primarily male. While passing by the small book section, my fiancé pointed out a women’s guide to your first gun. He questioned why it had to be specifically gender-coded, reasoning that everyone new to guns, regardless of gender, probably would need a manual. I agreed. It wasn’t the first or last material specifically gender oriented either. With the historical and cultural power white cis men have held (and still hold) in out society, it’s no wonder why all the products are marketed to them; they are the assumed norm for buyers because they’d typically be the only ones with the means to buy the expensive products. The store is by no means outwardly oppressive to people outside of that category, but it’s a notable trend nonetheless.
Cabela’s is also one of the cleanest stores I’ve ever been to. The floor was immaculate, as was the product packaging. No tampered goods, no aisle cleanups, nothing to hinder the consumer experience. Considering the store’s prices, it’s no wonder why they can afford such a pristine apperance: Cabela’s is also the most expensive store I’ve been to, which is also including a few boutique shops in New York I’ve encountered. Every product, as well as the building, has the highest quality materials put into it. And are therefore also incredibly expensive. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing; I understand that Underarmor, crossbows, boat sonar devices, guns, tents, fishing poles, and down padded sleeping bags are expensive. But as a broke, unemployed college student, it only intensified the playground element to the space for me, because I felt free. I couldn’t afford any of this stuff, and I wouldn’t want any of it either! It’s really something to be in a space of commerce and have literally *no* stakes in the space, no product attracting the eye for consideration. It’s liberating in a way.
Perhaps if I did have the means and interest in clothing, I would have looked and some of the clothes. Maybe. But as it stands, I had a wonderful free time in the carnival of the rich white men.
*I was later informed that my fiancé did see a black man entering the establishment as we were leaving,. But as he noted, “That Cabela’s is a white, white place.”