How Pyramid of Bass Pro Shops became a Memphis icon

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Johnny Morris launched Bass Pro Stores in 1972, when he was in his mid-twenties, as an eight-square-foot desk of high-end fishing gear in the back of his father’s liquor store in Springfield, Missouri. Within two years, Morris began a mail-order catalog; Before the contract expired, he was selling his collection of fishing boats.

By 1981, Morris had moved into his own store. It has grown over the years, and in 1992 St. Louis Post-Dispatch He published a somewhat suspicious article suggesting that the location of Pass Pro retail stores, known as Outdoor World, was the state’s busiest tourist attraction. The writer wondered: “If the guys here at Outdoor World are so loyal outdoors, what are they doing indoors while they watch? Incredible sports blooper A video on a beautiful day like today? “

By the late 1990s, as Morris began expanding, he found himself courted by politicians. The mayor of Oklahoma City — who has authorized construction of a $17 million building that will be leased to Morris’ Corporation — has compared the presence of bass bro stores in one’s town to a home baseball game every day of the year.

Feeding time in a large aquarium (Photo: Boyce Abault)

As for Memphis, the city is more associated with ducks than with baseball. It’s home to the famous Peabody Duck Walk – five rooftop molars take the elevator to the lobby floor and exit and head to the fountain, where they dash and splash at 11am and 5pm daily. Memphis lies midway through the Mississippi Flyway, and leaders soon saw Morris’ retail shrine for hunting and fishing as the perfect answer to the magnificent architectural albatross, the Pyramid.

Morris seemed ambivalent. The basic story of the Memphis store building—which I’ve heard at least five times during my visit—involves a Mississippi River fishing trip. Morris was considering whether to put a shop in the pyramid, and to make the decision easier, he decided that he would only do so if he caught a 30-pound fish. As you tour the store, a disembodied voice tells this story, saying dramatically, “All you see… would never have happened without one big old cat from the Mississippi.”

The city procured approximately $100 million for necessary renovations; Meanwhile, Bass Pro Stores rarely paid more than $1 million in annual rent. City officials say the arrangement has been a boon to their economy, attracting hordes of tourists and shoppers You have to see the place. The pyramid is so large that once the swamp pools were dug up and filled with 600,000 gallons of water, the building developed its own microclimate. Rinehart, the assistant manager, showed me a photo of a light mist gathering over 100-foot-high fake cypresses. A system had to be installed to maintain a more adequate level of humidity.

Carmen Jones, the store’s special events coordinator, was one of the many dealers who accompanied Liz and I during a very complete tour of the facility. Here was a cold water pond filled with trout. There was the 100-pound catfish, which was caught during the annual Mississippi River Catfish Tournament and the Mississippi River Monsters and was deemed so impressive that it was pardoned and brought indoors as a live show. Here the incredible sturgeon – the largest in the store is three decades old and weighs 150 pounds – took my breath away. (Not everyone was speechless: “They eat well if you get caviar!” I heard a young shopper cheer for his dad.) There is a 38,000-gallon aquarium where, twice a day, an employee in a diving suit is doing live feeds. The “Aquarist” I met – a nerd about all things fishy – told me that his usual day begins at six in the morning, when he prepares food and then wades in puddles to feed the monsters.

The pyramid is also home to a few young alligators—the latest addition to the animal—a crocodile tortoise to capture, and the only creature bestowed with the dignity of the name: Jenny Morris, a winking homage to the founder of Bass Pro Shops, awarded through online voting. Fitting in with Memphis, there are also four types of ducks. They cannot fly, because their wings are clipped, but they have free room to turn. This explains another important morning task: cleaning stool.

pyramid mega retail floor
pyramid mega retail floor (Photo: Boyce Abault)

As hotel guests, we got to skip the long line of people waiting to pay the $8 to ride to the top of the pyramid inside the longest free-standing elevator in the US. Stunning view of the Mississippi River anywhere along its southern stretch.

At one point, I notice the attention to detail, and Jones notes that this level of immersion extends to the quality of the light inside: “People don’t understand. They say, ‘It’s so dark here.” I’m like, ‘Well, have you ever been to the swamp? You’re supposed to have that feeling.”

Jones said she sometimes arrives before sunrise and leaves after sunset. It has whole days in the swamp, with no seasons and no weather, only everlasting twilight. However, there is always a lot to see. “It’s a retail store,” Jones said. “It is a restaurant. It is a hotel. It is a museum. It is an aquarium. It’s… It’s, like, a sensory overload.”

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