MEMPHIS, Tennessee — I settled into one of the giant black rocking chairs on the screen porch of my room at the Big Cypress Lodge a few hours after checking in.
Waterfalls running in the distance soothed me after a day of Thanksgiving travel. Paul Simon’s “50 Ways to Leave Your Lover” provided a chill soundtrack. A suspended ad brought me back to reality.
“It is now 6 pm and the Bass Pro Shops are officially closed.”
The 103-room inn is not in the desert, but within a sprawling retail sanctuary for hunting and fishing fanatics and the people who love them. (My 23-year-old son is first, I am last.)
It is the only hotel inside a Bass Pro Shops store.
Shoppers are spending more time and money in stores so far this holiday season. Few brick-and-mortar companies go to the bizarre lengths this one goes to to attract them.
The 535,000-square-foot store, a mix of mall, Disneyland, aquarium, zoo, shooting range, bowling alley, celebrity restaurant, gift shop and observation deck, is the chain’s largest. And the only one housed in a pyramid that was a sports and concert arena in a former life. The Memphis Grizzlies of the NBA played there briefly in the early 2000s and boxer Mike Tyson lost a fight there.
Bass Pro Shops founder and chief executive Johnny Morris has other hotels, including the Big Cedar Lodge in Missouri and a planned beachfront resort in Florida, but none with a shop.
The links between retail and hospitality are not new. IKEA has a 254-room hotel in Sweden, and the company formerly known as Restoration Hardware has just opened the RH Guesthouse in New York City. There are plenty of hotels attached to or near malls.
But the guests of these hotels don’t stay inside the store, unlike Big Cypress. The lodge reception is located inside the lodge’s main entrance. Guests with balcony rooms have views 24/7 – trout pond, cypress trees, neon lights and all – even when the shop is closed.
Big Cypress Lodge is the only hotel inside a Bass Pro Shops.
The lounge and other parts of the hotel focus on the outdoors theme.
T-shirts are for sale next to a pond.
A shopper took his dogs shopping there on Black Friday.
Watching the quiet scene from my porch at 4:30 am on Black Friday before the store opens, I felt a little like Will Ferrell’s character in “Elf” the night he camped out at Gimbels department store to redecorate for Santa’s visit. .
I watched employees restock Christmas-colored large boxes with $19.98 RedHead jackets and $10 flannel shirts before the store opened at 5 am. They talked about the growing crowd outside, watching the lines that already snaked out into the street.
As soon as the store opened, I took the elevator down one floor and stopped at the Sunglass Hut just below my room. The manager regaled early buyers with stories of Bass Pro’s resident ducks who hold an in-store “morning meeting”—except on Black Friday, when it’s very busy and bright very early.
That night I caught a stunning sunset from the observation deck overlooking the Mississippi River at the top of the pyramid. We roasted s’mores over an outdoor fire pit at the hotel with a $5 kit sold at the front desk.
My room was $280 a night before taxes and fees. Rooms without a balcony cost less. The hotel’s suites, cabins and treehouses are more.
Room 208 has plenty of space and amenities: comfortable beds and pillows, silky bathrobes with the Big Cypress logo, and room service. I wasn’t a fan of the wall-mounted deer head between our queen beds, but my son admired the good size. (A colleague’s sister covered the deer in her room during her stay in Big Cypress.)
The animal motif is hard to escape. The receptionist called me Mama Bear. The Do Not Disturb sign in my room showed a bear and said “Hibernating,” and the Wi-Fi password had the name of a stuffed bear on display in the hotel’s third-floor bar.
Forget the famous Memphis barbecue. Wild game is a staple on menus at the Bass Pro Shops restaurants in the Pyramid, with elk sliders and a charcuterie board with venison and duck sausage at the Lookout restaurant, 28 floors above. Hotel guests receive free elevator rides to the restaurant and observation deck, as well as convenient skip-the-line passes. Elsewhere is Wahlburgers Wild, owned by Mark Wahlberg and his family.
Hotel-retail combinations attract like-minded travelers, says Jan Freitag, national director of hospitality analytics at CoStar Group🇧🇷
“You can meet someone at the bar and talk about the moose they shot or the bass they caught and it’s not weird,” he says.
Collin Sanderson, right, and his son, Wyatt, are in the duck hunting section.
The store has an underwater themed bowling alley called the Fishbowl.
Buyers enjoy an arcade-style shooting game.
Felicia Kittrell, a Nashville hospital worker, still remembers her response when her husband, Terry, asked her if she wanted to go with him to the Bass Pro Shops to see the fishing rods more than 25 years ago.
“No way, I don’t want to go to any Bass Pro,” replied Ms. Kittrell. “So when I walked in there and noticed all the stuff they had, I’ve been hooked ever since.”
On Friday, the couple drove three hours from Nashville to stay at the Big Cypress Lodge for their 42nd wedding anniversary. She wore a navy blue Bass Pro vest and had the chain’s Black Friday sales brochure in her bag.
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LeBron James initially lured Kathy and Cody Frederick to Big Cypress Lodge. The Red Bud, Illinois, couple bought tickets to a Grizzlies v Los Angeles Lakers game in December 2018 as part of a tradition of vacationing with their son. (The Grizzlies now play at the nearby FedExForum.) The cabin’s rooms, porch, and motif reminded them of their honeymoon at Disney’s Wilderness Lodge in Florida.
The store was an afterthought. “We have family members who hunt and fish,” says Frederick, a computer programmer.
“We are simply not the family members who do this,” adds Ms. Frederick, who is a paralegal.
They returned to the Big Cypress for two nights on Thanksgiving this year to watch a Grizzlies v New Orleans Pelicans game. At the store, they took selfies on an ATV decorated with Christmas lights, ate at Wahlburgers, and did some Christmas shopping.
“I should be looking for hunting gloves for my nephew,” said Mrs. Frederick, “and I’m like, ‘What are hunting gloves?’”
Write to Dawn Gilbertson at [email protected]
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