Bass Pro Shops opening is one for the ages

A museum-like aquarium is just one attraction at Bass Pro Shops Outdoor World that recently opened at Alton Marketplace.

The recent Bass Pro opening was a community gathering event that will go down in Irvine retail history. Thousands of residents arrived hours early to celebrate the store’s opening with country music, selfies with race cars and an extra dose of community camaraderie.

When the doors finally opened, most stood in awe, wondering which direction to start their journey in this 140,000-square-foot outdoor-lover’s paradise.

“I hadn’t expected this at all,” said Cody Costello, who’d never been in a Bass Pro Shop before. “Let’s call it a 10-out-of-10 experience. I fully plan to go home broke tonight.”

The Alton Marketplace superstore is the latest of conservationist Johnny Morris’ more than 200 Bass Pro Shops spread across North America. The Irvine location, right off the I-5, is no coincidence.

“Irvine joins all our worlds,” said general manager Chris Beatty. “There’s a strong saltwater interest here, and the mountains are nearby. The desert for our ATVs. We think everybody here will love what we offer.”

“Our job is to make people happy, especially kids, by connecting them with nature.”

Johnny Morris, Bass Pro founder

The grand entryway, three stories high, is highlighted by a massive stone fireplace. From there you look down a long, narrow row of chandeliers to a vast, freshwater aquarium – with its own waterfalls from a bluff. It seemed no opening-night visitor failed to take family pictures at the aquarium.

The decision from there was: Which way to turn?

There’s a warehouse of boats – from speedboats to pontoons to canoes. Included is a model of Morris’ original Tracker boat. Then a variety of all-terrain vehicles.

So many choices

Freshwater fishing supplies, from rods to flies to tackle boxes, take up six aisles.

Saltwater fishing has its own house within the place, so ocean enthusiasts obsessed with their sport are free to mingle with just their peers.

“We love to fish in Newport Beach, so this store is a must-stop for us,” said Kay Nguyen, holding a pair of $15 fish slippers that she couldn’t resist.

For the rest of the shop, there is score after score of corridors for outdoor clothing, camping and hiking gear. There are dozens of outdoor grills. (“What’s fishing if you can’t grill your catch right away?” quips GM Beatty.)

There are waterproof speakers for boat music. If you’re partial to Garth Brooks, a Bass Pro ambassador, there’s a section for his own products. And what may surprise you – archery equipment makes up its own village. And if all of this gets you excited to head outdoors, there’s a travel agent aboard with videos of trips to grand locales.

“It’s a destination store,” Beatty says. “Everything you could ever want, at reasonable prices.”

It’s all encased in an environment designed to make you marvel – with a stunning floor-to-ceiling lake mural, towering chandeliers and walls covered with huge pictures and quotes from famed outdoor folk.

That includes Johnny Morris himself. The owner’s words sum up his philosophy: “Our job is to make people happy, especially kids, by connecting them with nature.”