Saturday, August 15, 2009
Take a Spin on Scheel's Big Wheel
It’s no exaggeration to say that the Scheels store that recently opened in Sparks is a typical sporting goods place—on steroids.
Billed as the world’s largest sporting goods store, Scheels in Sparks is far more than just a place to pick up a new pair of running shorts or a soccer ball.
It combines a massive sporting goods retail operation with a full size, indoor Ferris Wheel, NASCAR simulators, a gourmet deli and fudge café, giant fish tanks, a mountain of mounted big game animals and several sports history displays thrown in for good measure.
And that doesn’t include the talking robotic replicas of 14 U.S. Presidents.
The store, located in the new Legends at Sparks Marina shopping complex, is part of a North Dakota-based company that operates about 20 similar sports businesses, mostly in the Midwest. The 248,000 square foot Sparks version is the biggest in the chain as well as the largest sporting goods store in the world.
It’s difficult not to be overwhelmed when entering the store. A giant glass and steel atrium in the center houses the 65-foot-tall Ferris Wheel, which dominates the building.
Originally built in 1921, the amusement ride was refurbished by Scheels and included in the store not only as a promotional tool but also as a tribute to the inventor of the Ferris Wheel, George Washington Gale Ferris, who grew up in Carson City.
Rides on the 16-car big wheel are only $1—and provide perhaps the best overview of the entire store, which is, after all, pretty massive.
Additionally, if you enter from the parking lot side of the store, you pass beneath two 16,000-gallon aquariums, one of which contains freshwater fish found in Nevada. Inside the giant clear tank swims dozens of catfish, sturgeon, largemouth bass, blue gill, crappie and red and green sunfish.
The other tank contains salt-water species such as rare Hawaiian Black Trigger fish, sharks and stingrays. Staff feed the fish in both tanks at 2 p.m. and 3 p.m. daily.
The Walk of Presidents attraction, located around the atrium on the second floor, offers 14 motion-activated replicas of Presidents Thomas Jefferson, George Washington, Abraham Lincoln, John F. Kennedy, Ronald Reagan and others, who, in recorded voices, tell their stories. The Jefferson and Lincoln models also move while speaking.
The Wildlife Taxidermy Mountain, also on the second floor, is a 35-foot-tall, 800-square foot re-creation of a mountain peak that features more than 200 mounted animals that are found throughout Nevada including Bighorn sheep and mountain lions.
Perhaps the most fun attraction in the store is the NASCAR Simulator, where, for a separate price ($10 per driver), you can sit inside a full-size automobile/simulator and experience the thrill of driving the Daytona 500.
And if you need a break from walking around and checking out all of the stuff in Scheels, there’s Gramma Gina’s, a deli and fudge shop tucked inside the store. In addition to soups, salads and sandwiches, the restaurant offers an amazing array of Italian Gelato and the Scheels Fudge Factory, which sells more than 32 different flavors of fudge (I tried some—-it's quite delicious).
Of course, the main reason to hit Scheels is to shop and there is no shortage of name brand sporting goods spread throughout the place. The store is divided into 85 separate specialty shops selling items ranging from footwear to golf and ski equipment to hunting gear.
The Scheels company was founded in 1902 by Frederick A. Scheel, who opened a hardware store in Sabin, Minnesota (he later moved his headquarters to Fargo). In the mid-50s, he began selling sporting goods and, in 1972, added sports-related clothing. The chain’s first superstore opened in 1989 in Grand Forks, North Dakota.
Scheels in Sparks is open 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. Monday through Saturday, 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. on Sunday.