With construction nearing completion, the opening of Larry Varner’s new indoor shooting range is right on target.
The Gun Shack, located in the old Meramec Lanes at 795 N. Commercial Ave., St. Clair, is slated to open its doors at the end of this month.
Varner bought the former bowling alley, built in 1964, a couple of years ago and started remodeling it last year. Being a contractor, he has done most of the work himself, along with his employees.
“We’re pretty pleased with the progress and the transformation,” he said.
The signs are in place, the parking lot is freshly paved and Varner said people pull into the parking lot every day hoping to find it ready for business.
“We have to lock ourselves in,” he said. “People keep coming up here to see if we’re open yet.”
Varner, who has lived in St. Clair for 40 years, said he received a lot of support from the city, individuals and other businesses with his plans to transform the bowling lanes into shooting lanes.
“The city of St. Clair and the planning and zoning department were awesome,” he said, and the board of aldermen and the mayor were very supportive. There was no one protesting either. Nobody said anything negative.”
To legally operate, the only ordinance change he needed was to be able to shoot off a firearm in the city limits, which he said passed with no resistance as well.
“There were no gun ranges here so they had to add that in,” he said.
Varner said he started making plans for an indoor range in 2006 and over the years has been doing a lot of research about them.
“I did a lot of traveling around the United States talking to a lot of current (indoor gun range) owners about the ‘dos’ and the ‘don’ts’ so here we are,” he said.
Varner’s indoor gun range is the only one in the area.
“We’re making history,” he said. “This is the first in Franklin County. You got exterior (ranges) like the conservation areas, but there never has been an indoor range up to this point. We’re pioneers in this.”
The 12,000-square-foot building will house two shooting bays with 11 lanes that can each allow two shooters. The range is rated for not just handguns, but shotguns and rifles as well.
In the main lobby of the building is a long counter that will be stocked with guns that people can rent by the hour to shoot at the range. There also is a one-way, bullet-resistant window where patrons can watch people shooting in the bays.
“I mirrored the windows so people on the inside don’t look quite like zoo animals,” he said with a chuckle.
There are cameras mainly installed for safety reasons, but an added bonus is that customers can watch people shooting on the flat-screen televisions as well.
“My motto is, ‘Be Safe and Have Fun,’ ” he said. “We want to have an environment where safety is priority.”
Since the mass shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Connecticut in December 2012, Varner said he has seen a boom in gun sales. And with the uncertainty of the candidates in this year’s presidential election and recent mass shootings, he expects the trend to continue.
“When (the Sandy Hook shooting) happened, that’s when guns went crazy,” he said, “because they were threatening to take away the firearms. People that I thought would never buy a firearm are buying firearms. It just don’t matter if they’re male or female, young or old, they are all buying them.”
The building has no room to add on, Varner said, but he plans to fill the space he has to its capacity with plenty of firearms for sale, as well as a wide selection of ammunition and accessories.
“We carry all kinds of ammo, all kinds of firearms — handguns, long guns, black powder — gun safes, reloading components, holsters, magazines, a lot of accessories, some apparel, purse holsters, man purse holsters,” he said. “We’re going to handle a lot of lines I didn’t have room for at my current place. We’re going to get bigger, but it’s all going to get smaller because there’s no room to add on. I’m at my capacity.”
The Gun Shack will offer rental guns as well, so people who are unsure of which type of weapon to purchase can try out different types of weapons.
“I think that will be a win-win deal there. Before you make that major purchase you can try it out,” he said.
Varner said he will offer yearly memberships or people can pay by the hour to shoot. He is hoping to attract the business of local law enforcement entities for training purposes.
There also will be a variety of gun safety and operation classes, including conceal and carry permit instruction, as well as one-on-one gun training.
In addition, Varner plans to offer specials, such as ladies nights and senior citizen events, happy hour specials and possibly tournaments.
Varner has been around guns all his life, and he opened his first gun shop in 2005 in St. Clair. He moved to 1002 S. Outer Road behind McDonald’s in 2011. That business is still up and running, but he said he is in the process of moving to the new location.
“I like guns and I like the Second Amendment,” he said. “I like the First Amendment. It’s freedom, you know. A lot of men and women died for it.”
Varner said he already has some staff members and will be hiring more. “I’m looking for men and women, young and old,” he said.
He said gun experience is helpful, but not necessary.
Hours for the shooting range will be Monday by appointment only, Tuesday through Friday, 10 a.m. to 7:30 p.m., Saturday 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. and Sunday from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.