BRIDGEPORT, Conn. — John Plona of Milford and Johnny Lip of Bridgeport spent most of Wednesday hunting.
So what did they do Wednesday night? They joined the thousands who flooded into Bridgeport’s Bass Pro Shops, the outdoor mecca that staged a raucous grand opening complete with a race car, angling superstars, Santa and a ribbon cut with a bowie knife.
“What do I love about hunting? Everything,” said Plona, who was browsing through the camouflage department dressed from head to toe in camouflage. “I wanted to see the store because they’ve finally got one close to where we live.”
Nearby, the Americana band Union Rail played “I’ll Fly Away,” as Nicole Lawrence of Bridgeport took a selfie while lounging on a bed covered in a deer motif comforter.
“I’m just looking around,” she said. “I like it. I’ve got to take my mother here.”
Her friend Mayra Santiago said she waited for three hours outside to be part of opening night.
“Everybody’s been talking about it and talking about it,” said Santiago, who lives within walking distance. “I saw the outside and thought that was beautiful, but the inside is even more beautiful.”
The first Bass Pro Shops in Connecticut, the Bridgeport location is one of nearly 80 nationwide. Two-time World Series champ Johnny Damon and TV’s “Wicked Tuna” star TJ Ott were among the celebrities who signed autographs and smiled for photos with fans.
America’s favorite fisherman Jimmy Houston reminded those gathered that the 50 cents of every dollar spent Wednesday would be donated to the Connecticut Department of Energy and Environmental Protection and other environmental entities as part of the Evening of Conservation.
He praised Bass Pro for its “desire to make the lakes cleaner and better.”
One of the happiest people all night was Bridgeport Mayor Bill Finch, who considers the anchor store a highlight of his legacy.
“Anybody else excited like me?” he said to more cheers. “I told you so!”
As the speeches wore on, however, the crowd started to get restless.
“Stop talking and take my money!” yelled Doug Poskus in the front row.
Poskus took the day off from work and drove all the way from his Bristol home to attend.
“We were outside the store at 3. We’ve driven to Foxboro before, so this is better,” the fisherman said, mentioning the nearest Bass Pro Shops. “I want to see the lures, get some jerky.”
Skip Malone of Stratford got a surprise while signing up for a Bass Pro MasterCard: He won a $100 Priceless Surprises gift card.
“She just came up and gave it to me,” he said, laughing. “That was a surprise.”
Bass Pro Shops will be open Mondays through Saturdays from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. and Sundays from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m.
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