Columbia County officials broke ground Wednesday on the new Gander Mountain store, set to open next fall.
Officials announced in February that the Minnesota-based outdoor retailer had selected the Columbia County site on Mason McKnight Jr. Parkway near Flowing Wells Road for its next Georgia location.
Although Wednesday’s event was ceremonial, with developers and local officials briefly wielding gold-colored shovels, site preparation has been under way for a couple of weeks with crews working to relocate a sewer line and to remove earth at the site.
John Engler, vice president of McKnight Properties, said the company intends to open the 52,000-square-foot store by Oct. 1. “We will have the building pad ready by April 1, so they can get started,” Engler said.
The Gander Mountain store will anchor one end of what Engler hopes to develop into a large, mixed-use retail center with an additional 158,000 square feet of space for future tenants. Engler said he was in negotiations with other retailers for those spaces now and hoped to make another announcement soon.
The store will be the fourth Gander Mountain location in Georgia, joining stores in Albany and Valdosta, and a new store announced for McDonough, to open in the spring.
Eric Jacobsen, Gander Mountain’s executive vice president, said the company’s expansion into the Southeast market has only just begun. He said the culture of “hunting, fishing and camping” in the South makes it a natural fit for his company.
Jacobsen said the Southeast contains about 38 percent of the nation’s population, but accounted for more than 50 percent of firearms sales.
“It has a great cultural commitment to the outdoors,” he said. “It is a way of life.”
Gander Mountain, headquartered in St. Paul, sells hunting, fishing, camping, marine and outdoor lifestyle products and services. It has 131 stores in 24 states.
Gander Mountain is the second large outdoor retail chain in the past seven months to announce plans for the Augusta area. Cabela’s Inc. is completing work on a 42,000-square-foot store in Richmond County next to Costco in the Village at Riverwatch near Interstate 20, which will be the outdoor retailer’s first in Georgia. The store is scheduled to open March 20.