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Bass Pro Shops founder John L. Morris began selling bait out of his dad's liquor store in 1972. The store is now nationwide.
Bass Pro Shops founder John L. Morris began selling bait out of his dad's liquor store in 1972. The store is now nationwide.

No. 4 Bass Pro Shops' nationwide expansion

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What started with a mere worm, then a hook and later a fishing pole in the early 1970s inside a Springfield liquor store, became a national corporate phenomenon in the 2000s.

Bass Pro Shops put Springfield on the national maps for the retail, tourism and development sectors by its rapid and aggressive openings of Outdoor World stores.

In 1972, Bass Pro founder John L. Morris sold bait out of his dad’s Brown Derby liquor store to a stream of fishermen on their way to the Ozarks’ plentiful bass lakes. Slow and steady growth, including strong catalog sales, produced 22 stores after three decades.

Then, in 2004, the chain netted its first international store, in Toronto, and by July 2005, there were 27 stores in operation.

The company added store No. 40 in 2007 and ended the decade with 56 stores – no small feat considering these sites typically are more than 100,000 square feet and cost tens of millions of dollars.

During the decade, Bass Pro went big, aiming to anchor such sites as Mall of America in Minnesota, Patriot Place in New England, the Memphis Pyramid in Tennessee and the Canal Side development on the shores of the Erie Canal in New York.

The expansion was not without criticism, however, as Bass Pro’s model leveraged tax subsidies, often in partnership with developers. A 2010 study by New Jersey-based Public Accountability Initiative was particularly harsh with Bass Pro, citing some $560 million in taxpayer dollars awarded to the privately held retailer. The nationwide study concluded that, in some cases, Bass Pro was failing to live up to its promises to cities and their taxpayers. Bass Pro officials have said the research is “a gross misrepresentation of the facts.”

Bass Pro’s climb has brought the megaretailer to a No. 123 rank on Forbes’ 2009 list of America’s largest private companies with $3.4 billion in revenue and 16,000 workers in 2008.

See the full list of pivotal points chosen by the Springfield Business Journal here.
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