The new Gander Mountain store in Richland Township hadn’t been open an hour when George Kohler of Windber shelled out $129 for pair of boots for an upcoming Montana hunting trip.

“I hate this place already,” Kohler, 57, said with a laugh. “It’s too close to my home, and my wife says I’ll probably be living up here when I’m not hunting.”

He’ll be stalking elk and mule deer when he heads west.

Kohler was one of hundreds of outdoor enthusiasts who rushed to get indoors Friday as Gander Mountain’s doors opened at 8 a.m.

The well-known sporting-goods retailer unveiled its 95th store at 600 Galleria Drive, the former Wal-Mart site.

Kohler said the selection is the biggest advantage to having a national retailer specializing in hunting, fishing and camping gear in his back yard.

“I usually order stuff from a catalog, but now I can put my hands on an item before I buy,” he said.

Employees decked out in blaze-orange hunting vests were as easy to spot as a hunter on a stand during the first day of buck season. The workers were doing their best to answer everyone’s questions, but it was hectic during the morning rush.

District Manager Joe Hardin, who is responsible for stores in western Pennsylvania, Ohio and Indiana, said the 60,000-square-foot operation should serve area hunting, fishing and camping enthusiasts well.

“The turnout this morning is fantastic,” said Hardin, who along with store Manager Shannon Platt cut the ribbon to open the doors.

“Normally when we open a store, we have from 300 to 400 people outside. This morning there had to be at least 700 who showed up.”

Things didn’t slow through midday. As soon a car or truck backed out of a parking space, there seemed to be another pulling in.

The store offers everything from clay pigeons and turkey calls to fishing rods and bows.

Hundreds of firearms are placed in racks where people easily can pick up one to test the fit. The guns are tethered to the racks and equipped with trigger locks.

The Johnstown location follows Gander Mountain’s new trend of building larger stores. The opening was one of three the chain scheduled for Friday. The other new stores are in Salisbury, Md., and Sherman, Texas.

The company has 98 stores in 18 states.

Platt said he is pleased with his sales staff and emphasized that they are encouraged to share their passion for the outdoors.

“They also can mentor first-time hunters and youth as well as wives and mothers,” Platt said.

Sherri Taylor, 39, of Mineral Point, who along with her husband, Paul, enjoys turkey hunting and pursuing deer with a bow, took time to shop before going to work at the nearby Ponderosa restaurant.

Like many others in the store, she was curious, but she also was buying.

“I’ll probably spend at least $100 and get something for all of us, including three children,” said Taylor, who was looking for camouflage pants.

“I have long legs, and it is sometimes difficult to get the right fit unless you try them on,” said Taylor, who is 5 feet 9 inches tall. “This is will save me from having to ship something back like I do when ordering from a catalog.”

The large exhibit space allows the company to display more than 1,500 firearms and house a gunsmith and archery pro shop. It also has an indoor archery range where customers can try out new bows.

Eric Poling, 34, of South Fork said his impression of the store was positive.

“This is where I’m sending my wife to buy my Christmas gifts,” said Poling, who was looking at steelhead fishing rods known as noodle rods. “I’ll bring her in and point a few things out to give her an idea of what I like. She’ll need a credit card.”

A group of men were lined up at gunsmith Aaron Lydic’s counter as they asked questions concerning firearms.

Some wanted to know the value of older guns or whether a certain type of ammunition was safe to fire from vintage firearms.

Lydic does not appraise value, but he is a good judge of quality. He is one of two gunsmiths who offer a full range of services.

“We expect to be mounting and bore sighting a lot of rifle scopes and putting on recoil pads in the next several weeks,” Lydic said as he took time between a steady stream of customers.

Not everyone was focused on hunting. Norm Lord, an associate in the fishing department, said he was amazed that so many people were looking for ice-fishing gear.

“That has been the majority of questions I’ve been asked,” Lord said. “It is high on our list of things to stock, and all of those items should show up in November.”

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