Bass Pro Group, a huge boat and outdoor retailer, has acquired five Crystal-Pierz Marine stores, including three in Minnesota.

The company will retain the Crystal-Pierz name but will stock its own aluminum and fiberglass boats in the stores before spring arrives, Bass Pro spokesman Larry Whiteley said Tuesday.

Many boat manufacturers and retailers have struggled during the recession as consumers pared back to all but the basics. Big-ticket items have been particularly hard to sell.

Crystal-Pierz was in tough shape even before the financial markets collapsed. It closed six of its 12 stores in July 2008.

Crystal-Pierz President Luke Kujawa could not be reached Tuesday for comment.

Whiteley didn't release terms of the deal, noting that both companies are privately held.

The Springfield, Mo.,-based company purchased Crystal-Pierz stores in Shakopee, Brainerd and Ramsey, as well as Rice Lake, Wis., and Fargo, N.D. Crystal-Pierz will still own two other stores.

Whiteley said Bass Pro was attracted to the deal because it doesn't have stores in Minnesota and Crystal-Pierz is well-known and has offered good service for customers. "That's a valuable name up there," Whiteley said. "It's been around a long time."

Bass Pro previously announced plans to open one of its vast outdoor stores at the Mall of America, when phase two of the mall is built. "It is still the plan, as far as I know," Whiteley said.

Bass Pro was founded by Johnny Morris in 1971 when he started selling fishing tackle from his father's liquor store. He mailed out his first Bass Pro Shops catalog in 1974. The company now operates 56 retail stores that attract more than 100 million customers a year, Whiteley said.

"They are destination retail stores," he said, with unique themes reflecting the regions where they are located. The stores range in size from 150,000 to 330,000 square feet, which he said is the equivalent of 3 1/2 to 7 1/2 football fields.

While the acquisition will initially be largely marine-focused, it gives Bass Pro, which has been a powerhouse in the southern United States, a foothold in the Upper Midwest, where Cabela's has a strong hold on consumers. Cabela's now operates Minnesota stores in Owatonna, Rogers and East Grand Forks, so the arrival of Bass Pro sets up a competition for spending on outdoors merchandise.

In addition to its strong retail business, Bass Pro, which employs 16,000 people, manufactures fishing boats through its Tracker Marine Group. Whiteley said Tracker is the No. 1 selling aluminum fishing boat in the United States. The stores in the Upper Midwest region will carry Tracker boats and an array of other boats, including Tahoe sports boats, made of fiberglass, and Nitro performance bass boats.

Liz Fedor • 612-673-7709