Picture a gun shop where men and women, novices and experts are all treated the same.
A judgment-free zone, if you will.
At Gunsmoke Trading Post in Rotterdam, all are welcome to browse the guns in a log cabin-like setting as stuffed trophies of deer, a moose and a bear look down from above, country music plays on the speakers and the scent of brewing coffee fills the air.
Dave Leon, owner of 18 Planet Fitnesses — 11 in the Capital Region — has done his best to apply the same philosophy of the judgment-free gyms — where “lugs” are not welcome — to the gun store, which opened at 141 W. Campbell Road, on the site of the former Main Florists, on April 14.
Leon started talking with his friend Brian Olsen, owner of eight gun stores in the Capital Region, about partnering in the gun business about two years ago.
“With my multi-unit experience and his experience in the gun industry, we decided that we could take him to the next level, make all his businesses Gunsmoke and go across the state like we did with Planet Fitness, build a non-intimidating atmosphere into the gun business,” said Leon, whose other business partner, Bob Morris, owns 10 Planet Fitnesses in the Utica and Syracuse areas. “The gun business is very intimidating, kind of like the gyms used to be.”
Leon, 52, has been interested in guns all his life. He learned to hunt from his father, Raymond, who died two years ago. He always wanted to open a gun store but never did.
“It’s one of my passions,” Leon said Friday from his office in Planet Fitness, which shares space with Gunsmoke in the new 11,000-square-foot building he owns. “You’ll go next door, you’ll see all the dead animals in there from all over the world, from New Zealand to Alaska to New Finland to British Columbia.”
Leon admits he didn’t get his love for guns or hunting from his mother, Mabel, who is known as one of the area’s most vocal advocates for peace.
“I’m the right-wing extremist and she’s the Code Pink, Mamas for Obama, Grandmothers for Peace,” he joked.
“I’m not exactly a right-wing extremist,” he added. “I was raised a Democrat.”
Her influence did play a role in the store’s design, however, even if she may not be spending a lot of time in the shop.
“I make sure that I follow all the rules, because she would like to see all the guns with locks on them,” Leon said.
Locked guns, along with a crew of expert trainers ready to assist beginners, help to make the store more inviting than your typical gun shop, Leon said. One of the trainers, and one of the shop’s 11 employees, is John Affinito, who retired as a Schenectady County deputy sheriff earlier this month and will begin teaching gun safety on site in coming weeks.
“We’re trying to advance everything and get firearms safety out there to the general public,” Affinito said. “Not to fear them, just respect them.”
The store’s inventory includes “a lot of guns that are for first-time users” made by companies such as Remington Arms in Ilion, Leon said. The store even sells pink pistols, in case that’s what you’re looking for.
“Is there anything less intimidating than a pink gun?” Leon said.
Once Olsen’s eight stores, which include B&J Guns in Albany and Oakwood Trading Post in Troy, come under the Gunsmoke name, the Rotterdam location will serve as the flagship store.
The Rotterdam store has the selection to hold that title. Its 27 exclusive lines, more than 300 pistols and about 500 long guns are already getting the attention of local gun owners like Ryan Sprague, who browsed the shop Friday morning. The store will also soon be stocked with 50 crossbows, which were recently legalized for hunting in New York.
“It’s a huge inventory. The most I’ve seen,” said Sprague, 28, of Rotterdam, who hopes to receive his unrestricted pistol permit that will allow him to carry and conceal. As a recently married man who wants to have kids someday, Sprague said it’s important to him to “have that sense of security.”
He wants to buy a Springfield XDS pistol, which is smaller than his full-sized 1911.
“That’s a nice carry gun,” Leon said as he helped Sprague browse the selection. “It doesn’t weigh a lot, it’s very safe — nobody sees it. The whole thing now is carry and conceal so you don’t intimidate anybody.”
“It’s perfect,” he said. “Nobody will even know it’s there — except me.”