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RGIII greets an old friend, Bruiser, before signing autographs at Dick’s Sporting Goods at Richland Mall Saturday.

Richland Mall manager Kandace Menning is a big fan of her new tenant, all 45,000 square feet of wall-to-wall kayaks, golf clubs, fishing rods, bicycles and footballs, attractively displayed and much of it discounted, for now.

Dick’s Sporting Goods has arrived and even has its own outside entrance, just like Dillard’s, Sears, JC Penney and Bealls, the mall’s other heavyweights.

Menning at mid-afternoon Friday, grand opening day, could be seen at a Dick’s checkout register, making yet another purchase.

“This is hardly my first visit,” said Menning, opening a Dick’s sack to reveal her latest buy, gym shorts. Previous forays into the store, so heavily staffed for the unveiling that employees outnumbered shoppers in some of the wide aisles, ended with purchases of yoga apparel, sports socks and sneakers.

“My administrative assistant, Julisa Bean, bought two fishing rods,” said Menning, noting she was not alone in tossing out the welcome sign.

As for Dick’s store managers and supervisors, they toed the corporate line and smilingly referred all comment about crowd size to headquarters.

However, several shoppers agreed to offer their two cents’ worth.

Laine Beatty, 32, from Houston, and with a husband attending law school at Baylor University, said the store reminded her of shopping back home.

“It’s a safe bet they have whatever you need, sports equipment, attire, and their prices are comparable to just about anyone,” said Beatty, sounding more like a spokeswoman than consumer and admittedly a big fan.

“It looks like any other Dick’s, any other sporting goods store,” said Daniel Rhoades, 56, who added he meant that in a good way. Raised in California and retired from the military after a 20-year stint, Rhoades works at the Coca-Cola plant in Waco and has shopped at Dick’s in Killeen and Dallas. He’s for “anything that improves Waco,” and said Dick’s fits the bill, and he shops for shoes and ammo at Academy Sports & Outdoors.

James Hackney, 63, who has lived in Houston and Beaumont and now is employed at the Doris Miller Veterans Affairs Medical Center in Waco, said he visits the mall “pretty often,” making stops at JC Penney and Bath & Body Works. Dick’s will give him another reason to shop there.

Asked about the short-lived Gander Mountain sporting goods store at I-35 and Valley Mills Drive, which joined others nationwide in closing, Hackney said, “I think they priced themselves out of business. Dick’s has better prices.”

“I’ve never been in one, but I’m having my glasses fixed at VisionWorks, right across the street, so I thought I’d stop by,” said Jim Bryant, 66, of Clifton. He said he visits Academy “occasionally,” and Walmart in Waco “a couple of times a month.” He noticed Friday that cooler packs for his ice chest “were about $5 less at Dick’s than at Cabela’s,” in Central Texas Marketplace.

Jordan Jones, 24, a trooper with the Texas Department of Public Safety, said a friend manages a Dick’s in Fort Worth, and he likely will shop at the new Waco store “during my long weekend off once a month.” He said he was impressed with the friendliness of the staff, clothing and sportswear options that include UnderArmour, and the selection of firearms.

“My son is so excited about this place, and has been bugging me to bring him over,” said Jana Jones, 46, of Gatesville, accompanied by 9-year-old Seth. “Maybe Dick’s will bring more people to this location. The mall has lost several stores to Central Texas Marketplace. This may change things.”

N.S. Johnson, 86, said she was “checking out the clothes” at Dick’s, and was familiar with the chain, having visited locations in Austin and Denver, Colorado. She said she could see herself visiting the Waco store “three or four times a year,” as she loves canoeing and may need equipment.

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