I had seen photos of friends at Scheel’s, the “shopping adventure” in Springfield, but I had no idea what we were getting into when we pulled up that day last month. All I knew is that it was worth the stop. Or at least, that’s what I told myself.
Because, where else can you ride an indoor Ferris wheel, see animatronic historical figures, and get in a NASCAR driving simulator?
Yes, it’s that random. Only there’s very little that’s random about Scheel’s, which is a stroke of marketing genius. In a day and age when online shopping is all the rage, the folks at Scheel’s have mastered the art of “destination shopping.” It’s not a store – it’s a “retail experience.”
For the uninitiated and perplexed: Scheel’s is billed as a “sporting goods and entertainment chain store.” Part of the charm is its scarcity — Scheels operates just 26 store locations, spread among 12 states. It’s a unique experience. One where you don’t have to buy anything, but you will find yourself taking lots and lots of photos. Seriously.
From the moment we walked in, I knew we were going to be there for awhile. The beautiful aquarium at the entrance has a way of enticing kids and keeping them. Or maybe it was the full-size Ferris wheel. Yes, full size. As in, I was a little freaked out how high you’re up at the top and was probably cutting off my kid’s circulation at one point, I was holding on to her for dear life.
But in all seriousness, going on the Ferris wheel to start was a good decision because it gave us a great overview of the entire store – and the kids could pick where they wanted to explore.
The taxidermy section – sandwiched between hunting and fishing – was of particular interest to my preschooler; she loved seeing all the animals (but it didn’t last, once she figured out they weren’t, ahem, alive).
The school-age kids gravitated more to the animatronics as well as the photo stations that rim the second floor of the store. The life-size Abraham Lincoln reciting the Gettysburg Address was particularly notable, especially being in Lincoln’s city and having his home, tomb, and other sites within miles. Some of the other presidents provided the opportunity for a history lesson (James Madison isn’t a household name for our kids — yet).
The photo stations are great fun for kids and adults alike, putting you in well-lit areas with backdrops from bears to fish.
The next time we go to Scheel’s, there will be plenty left to do. We didn’t have enough time to enjoy the bowling (think Jupiter’s at the Crossing, with small lanes) or the NASCAR simulator (my kids aren’t really into that anyway). There’s also a restaurant complete with a fudge/ice cream shop on site.
Scheel’s puts on multiple events every month, many of them catered to kids and families, so check their calendar – that might be one way to plan your trip. Or just show up.
I almost forgot to mention – we did do some shopping. Bought the kids new athletic shoes, but in reality – we spent most of our time at Scheel’s just plain gawking.
And to think, we were just excited by the life-size statues outside. Good thing we made it inside.
Laura Weisskopf Bleill is the mom-in-chief of chambanamoms.com.