I was born and raised in a small city of 6,000 on the Great American Plains of Nebraska.
With Sidney as my hometown, everyone always says to me, “Oh ya, the home of Cabela’s.”
Well, it used to be.
Cabela’s was once a bright star for Sidneyites.
Growing up in Sidrock (a place between a rock and a hard place), everyone worked at Cabela’s, or you at least knew someone who worked there. At one point they topped 3,000 employees in my town of 6,000 people and were actually busing employees in from neighboring cities to fill orders and provide customer service.
I was friends (and still am) with Dick and Mary Cabela’s children and even spent a Christmas Day at the Cabela home once back in high school.
The entire family was gracious, friendly and really cared about the community they lived in.
They could pretty much do anything they wished as they were by far the richest family in the region. Still, the Cabela’s company and the family were not snobbish bullies that pushed the community around. Rather, they were partners involved with small and large community projects every day.
When they asked for something, they usually got it but their requests were never outlandish or elaborate.
I was grateful that Cabela’s was founded and remained in my hometown.
Then in 2015 a man named Paul Singer, with Elliott Associates LP, figured out Cabela’s was worth more for its parts than it was as a company. Singer set out on a mission to secretly purchase Cabela’s stock. When he amassed just 11% of it, he forced the company into a fire sale.
It took two years but competitor Bass Pro Shops finally acquired Cabela’s for a mere $4 billion.
The sale left Cabela’s executives and stockholders with fat paychecks but the corporate headquarters began shutting down in Nebraska.
When it began, more than 2,000 people worked in the Cabela’s headquarters in Sidney. Two years after Bass Pro took over, just 400 employees are now in the corporate offices in my hometown.
Wednesday more bad news arrived.
Bass Pro announced that 120 of the remaining employees have been offered relocation options to move to the Bass Pro headquarters in Springfield, Missouri, or to accept a severance package. They have 90 days to move or be unemployed. Sidney will then have 280 employees.
To think that the once mighty Cabela’s has fallen like this is sickening.
It is true that all the people in my hometown put all their eggs in one basket. Eventually that basket was overrun by corporate raiders and Bass Pro.
I know that birth and death are natural things — even in business. Everything will eventually come to an end.
Still, I remain reluctant to again enter, let alone shop at a Bass Pro Shop. I feel like their company has insulted and demolished my hometown. They have tarnished the childhood memories I hold close.
The other day I was at a restaurant and saw a gentleman wearing a Bass Pro hat.
I seriously felt the urge to rip it off his head and give him a lecture on how evil that company is being to my friends, relatives and hometown.
Realizing that would be an irrational reaction, I resisted the urge.
For most people, Bass Pro is an excellent place to shop. For me it just brings up too many memories of days gone by and a town that no longer exists.
For five years, Cabela’s let me be one of the celebrity judges of the annual Cabela’s Dutch Oven Cook Off Challenge. It was a tasty event and they always took us trout fishing the day before!
I remember sitting down with Dick, Mary and Jim Cabela for many news interviews. I never refused their invitations to the newspaper for interviews or to attend special events at the corporate headquarters.
I remember getting a request to photograph the three of them together for the front page of the Philadelphia Inquirer. At the time, they were not getting along very well.
They had refused requests to be photographed together for several years but somehow I was able to get them together for pictures.
This really shows how much they cared about community and not what the world thought of them.
It’s just sad to think Cabela’s sporting goods is coming to an end.
In this there are lessons to learn.
As a community, be diverse in your economic development. Do not place all your investments in one sector or industry and plan for the downturn of your largest employer.
Hopefully, it will never happen, but eventually it will.
Justice reporter Jim Headley can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.