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Biz soars as area gun shops reopen

  • Employee Zach Emond helps customer Jason Graves of Heath at The Gun Rack on Avenue A in Turners Falls. STAFF PHOTOS/PAUL FRANZ

  • A customer enters The Gun Rack on Avenue A in Turners Falls. Owner Norman Emond Jr. says the shop has sold many guns since Saturday.

  • Bear Arms gun shop on New Athol Road in Orange has been “crazy busy” since reopening Saturday, says co-owner Ed Hallett. STAFF PHOTO/PAUL FRANZ

Staff Writer
Published: 5/13/2020 3:36:47 PM

Local gun shops were staring down the barrel of possible financial ruin until a federal judge ruled last week that Gov. Charlie Baker’s orders to close placed an “improper burden” on people’s constitutional rights to possess firearms.

U.S. District Judge Douglas P. Woodlock in Boston ordered Massachusetts to allow gun shops to reopen nearly two months after Baker’s administration deemed them nonessential businesses that needed to close to slow the spread of COVID-19. Sales at area stores have gone through the roof since noon on Saturday, when they were allowed to open the doors again.

“It was kind of a nightmare for me,” Charles Ricko, owner of Overwatch Outpost in Charlemont, said of the past two months. “Small businesses like mine, we get by month to month.”

The store at 97 Main St. sells firearms, ammunition, tackle and live bait, outdoor recreational clothing and archery equipment. Ricko also offers firearms training.

“Financially, it’s hard,” he said. “I’ve been living off savings and whatever I had in the bank. I had zero income coming in.”

According to Woodlock’s order, licensed firearms dealers can be open by appointment only, with not more than four appointments per hour. Dealers are limited to operating between 9 a.m. and 9 p.m. and must require employees and customers to cover their noses and mouths “with a mask or cloth face covering.”

Shop owners must also allow employees and customers access to hand-washing facilities and allow employees sufficient time between appointments to wash their hands. Alcohol-based wipes must be made available, and “frequent touchpoints” and merchandise handled by customers (but not purchased and taken away by a customer) must be sanitized throughout the day.

Woodlock also ordered that customers remain 6 feet apart from one another.

Ricko said his customers have seemed relieved the shop is open again, with roughly half of turkey season remaining. He said people have come in for decoys and calls. Overwatch Outpost is also an official Massachusetts game check station, but that function has been shut down by the state.

He said he got a double whammy because the other half of his business consists of guided fishing trips, which are still off-limits per the governor’s executive orders.

“This is the time of year I am usually booking up (trips) for the year. I do not have a single trip booked,” he said, adding that he has a new $6,000 drift boat that has yet to touch water.

Ricko said he was part of a group of gun shop owners that sued Baker, a moderate Republican, and state Attorney General Maura Healey, a Democrat, over the orders to shut down.

Ed Hallett, who with Matt Sherman co-owns Bear Arms gun shop at 117 New Athol Road in Orange, said the store has been “crazy busy” since reopening Saturday, possibly the busiest it’s been in its 5½-year history. He said he sells various types of firearms and ammunition. He mentioned the flood of business has likely been the result of customers having to go without for nearly two months.

Hallett said he cannot fathom Baker’s rationale behind the mandated closure.

“He infringed upon the Constitution of the United States,” he said, referring to the Second Amendment.

Norman Emond Jr., owner of The Gun Rack in Turners Falls, said he has sold many carry guns and shotguns since Saturday. However, he said he also sold 480 firearms in the 3½ weeks leading up to the mandated closure, which customers were anticipating. He had 100 customers per hour in that 3½ weeks, he said.

Emond, who said his business also supplies several police departments, said he is in a healthy financial situation because he predicted the mandated closure and planned accordingly.

Reach Domenic Poli at: dpoli@recorder.com or 413-772-0261, ext. 262.

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