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Sunday, Oct 22, 2017
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Steve Otto Columns

Otto: Hillsborough commission should ignore lure of Bass Pro Shops

So today is the day the Hillsborough County Commission decides whether it wants to take the bait and spend roughly $6.25 million for road improvements and other goodies that would assist retailer Bass Pro Shops in building a store on the outskirts of Brandon, which then could call itself "The Next Great Destination Bedroom Community." Indications are the commission will do what it traditionally does when faced with tough questions such as this: After much pontification, it will completely fold. The justification pitch lately has been that the proposed store would not just be another "big box" retail outlet but a "destination store," which proponents claim means people will come just to visit the store, regardless of whether they buy anything. Bass Pro is bigger than your local bait shop. I've been in one and the stores are full of demonstration areas and enough stuff to keep you interested, even if your idea of roughing it in the great outdoors is the continental breakfast at a Best Western hotel.
Bass Pro Shops sort of reminds me of the old Webb's City in St. Petersburg where Doc Webb had everything from dancing chickens to mermaids in a store that spread out over a block. And people did come, although I think my grandfather and I went over to try the great milkshakes more than anything else. Webb would do anything to bring in a crowd to his "World's Most Unusual Drugstore." There were ducks that played baseball, the first escalator on the Florida west coast, a 24-hour barbershop, a cafeteria and soda fountains, and once he even brought the Flying Zacchinis over from Tampa and shot one of them out of a cannon in his parking lot. Unfortunately, even dancing chickens and Flying Zacchinis weren't enough as shopping malls and other, more sophisticated attractions doomed his store. So I would be leery about falling for the "destination store" lure of Bass Pro Shops. It could end up being another Webb's City or — and I'd be real careful about this — South of the Border complete with a giant Pedro and Sombrero Tower. Whatever it is, and I wish Bass Pro well, I think we ought to let the retailer do it on its own. Finally, you can tell it's getting to be springtime in Tallahassee, as the bursts of energy from lawmakers preparing for the legislative session lift the spirits of us all. With the nation in fiscal turmoil and most of us wondering what can possibly go wrong next, it was comforting to read the Associated Press story in Monday's Mother Trib headlined, "Legislature could gut gift ban." That's right. Apparently since the ban on freebies went into effect, some lawmakers have said it makes it more expensive to do their jobs. They also are spending too much time trying to find loopholes that will allow them to accept gifts that go way beyond free cups of coffee. I'm sure all of you are as anxious as I am for legislators to come up with some kind of exemption. They could call it a jobs bill to help lobbyists remain in demand.
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