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Bass Pro Shops: Where money grows on trees

Everything you need to know about Bass Pro Shops in five minutes or less, including some of the weirder stuff you can find there.

The silver Memphis Pyramid stretching up into the sky with the Bass Pro Shops logo on it, as people stream in on a sunny day.
John Branston
This story was published on our Quartz Weekly Obsession newsletter, An interactive email on the fascinating histories of everyday ideas.
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North America’s great indoors

In the heart of downtown Memphis, Tennessee, a colossal steel pyramid towers over the banks of the Mississippi. Originally, the structure was a basketball stadium—dubbed the “Tomb of Doom”—for the University of Memphis Tigers, followed by the NBA’s Grizzlies, who ultimately abandoned the stadium for newer digs. Currently, though, the inside of the Memphis Pyramid celebrates a different kind of sporting world, the kind that involves trees, fish, bears, alligators, and veritable streams, nay, rivers of cash.

In its current incarnation as a Bass Pro Shops Outdoor World location, the Memphis Pyramid is not only a place to shop for fishing, boating, and hunting gear but also a 103-room hotel with treehouse-style cabins, 600,000 gallons of tank space featuring live alligators, an aquarium-themed bowling alley, and an observation deck with an impressive view of the city.

Bass Pro’s 170 locales don’t always make it into a city’s official skyline, but each is a fascinating, over-the-top, indoors homage to the outdoors. And capitalism, of course.

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Brief history

1972: Johnny Morris starts selling tackle from the back of his father’s Springfield, Missouri store, ultimately expanding to what he envisions as a “retail mecca for sportsmen.”

1974: Bass Pro Shops mails its first catalog to 10,000 people in 20 states.

1981: The first Outdoor World store opens adjacent to the Springfield location.

1988: The company opens the 4,600-acre Big Cedar Lodge Resort in the Ozark Mountains.

1995: The second Bass Pro Shops location opens with a 90,000 sq ft facility in Duluth, Georgia.

2015: The Memphis Pyramid location opens after five years of development.

2016: Bass Pro Shops buys Cabela’s for $5.5 billion.

2017: The company settles a $10.5 million discrimination lawsuit with the US Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.

2019: This indoorsy author visits a Bass Pro Shops for the first time, and never wants to leave.


A sign saying Please check all firearms in at the Cherokee St. Entrance in front of a Bass Pro Shop lit up with holiday decorations.
Image copyright: Ethan Prater

The perils of a pastoral paradise

But all the sparkling indoor waterfalls in the world can’t distract from murky waters underneath. In 2017, Bass Pro Shops settled a lawsuit with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), agreeing to pay $10.5 million for allegedly discriminating against minority employees in hiring. The EEOC also alleged the company retaliated against employees who spoke up about illegal practices.

We’re also talking about one of the largest firearms retailers in the US—the weapons used in the Aurora, Colorado movie theater shooting in 2012 were legally bought at a Bass Pro in Denver. The flagship store in Springfield, Missouri is also the home to the National Rifle Association’s National Sporting Arms Museum.

Despite that particular conservative alignment, the company is not shy about its involvement with environmental efforts, deftly fitting in news about its wildlife conservation alongside tributes to rugged sportsmen. Yet nowhere in its online materials, which talk a lot about conserving natural habitats for generations to come, does Bass Pro Shops mention the triggering words “climate change.” It’s a smart reframing for a right-leaning audience that politicians could learn from.


By the digits

23: Years between the building of the first and second Bass Pro Shops locations

$5.5 billion: Price paid to buy rivals Cabela’s in 2016

170: Bass Pro Shops and Cabela’s locations in the US and Canada

535,000: Square feet of the Memphis Pyramid Bass Pro Shop

$6.9 billion: Estimated annual corporate revenue

$6.7 billion: Bass Pro Shop founder John Morris’s estimated net worth

$3,699.90: The price of Swarovski binoculars sold at Bass Pro Shops

$1,829.99: The price of the most expensive meat grinder at Bass Pro Shops

$178.76: The estimated cost of a really cheap camping trip


Quotable

“Quite frankly… what revenue-producing, tax-producing activities would be well suited to be located in a pyramid?”

—Former Memphis Mayor A C Wharton, Jr., who brought Bass Pro Shops to the Memphis Pyramid


Pop quiz

Which of these is one of the restaurant brands Bass Pro Shops owns?

A. Bigfoot’s Meat Fest

B. Uncle Buck’s FishBowl & Grill

C. Davy Crock-Pot’s Stew Cabin

D. Babe the Blue Ox Bubble Bar

Find the answer at the bottom!


A man with an ironically scared expression on his face has put his head between the claws of a taxidermied bear wearing a baseball cap.
Image copyright: Scott Nover
The author meets a Bass Pro Shops bear.

Bait-bucket list

What you can find at Bass Pro Shops

🛥️ Custom-build fishing boats

🐆 Leopard-print Crocs

🦈 Ocean-themed bowling alleys

🇺🇸 American flag lifejackets

🐺 A turquoise wolf necklace

🔫 An indoor pistol range 

🪨 An assortment of slingshots

👕 This terrible T-shirt


Fun fact!

Bass Pro Shops founder Johnny Morris gifted former US president George W. Bush a boat called “Bass Force One” at a conference event in 2014. “Water Force One” makes more sense, but no one consulted us.


Watch this!

It’s a party in the USA

A screenshot from YouTube of a man wearing a baseball cap pointing to a pyramid in the background that says Bass Pro Shops.
Image copyright: YouTube/Ryan’s Shorts

YouTuber Ryan Hailey donned a cap and wrote an anthem, because why not?


Take me down this 🐰 hole!

Even if you’ve never been to a Bass Pro Shop, you’ve probably seen the hat. In 2021, The Wall Street Journal dubbed these $6 trucker hats, emblazoned with the Bass Pro Shops logo, the latest Gen Z fashion trend. The website Know Your Meme clarified that the trend is “unironic,” even if many of its young wearers aren’t ardent outdoors enthusiasts or Bass Pro Shops shoppers. It’s simply, mysteriously “cool.”


A Bass Pro Shops Outdoor World lit up at night with a sign that says California's Great American Outdoor Store
Image copyright: Leijurv

Poll 

Would you dip your toe in the Bass Pro Shops waters?

Go ahead, be honest.


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Today’s email was written by Scott Nover (survived the above-pictured bear attack) and edited by Susan Howson (doesn’t do the outdoors even when indoors).

The correct answer to the quiz is B. Uncle Buck’s FishBowl & Grill, which offers “underwater” bowling lanes and custom mermaid bowling balls. Also, baskets of fried things.

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