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Few of us shoot as often as we’d like, let alone as often as we should. I certainly don’t. Time’s always a problem and a big part of that is the fact that the two ranges I like to frequent are about 25 miles from my home. Gun ranges tend to be located in two types of areas; they’re either 1) in sketchy, industrial parts of town that may or may not require body armor to negotiate, or 2) out in the exurban sprawl where land is cheap, zoning is easy and the corn is high. Wouldn’t it be nice, though, if working on your dot torture drill was as easy and convenient as going to your local mall? Sure, you’d have to dodge those geriatric, velour-suited mallwalkers but that’s a small price to pay for cutting your drive time in half, right? A recent trend in commercial real estate just might make that possible…

An article at details how mall owners are finding creative ways to fill those vacant big box stores formerly occupied by now-bygone names such as Circuit City and Borders. And in addition to go-cart tracks, community theaters and fencing academies, shooting ranges have been quite the success.

Perhaps the most unusual use of a former big-box store is William James’s Arms Room gun shop and shooting range, which opened last year in a former Circuit City store south of Houston. Mr. James spent nearly $5 million to buy the 20,000-square-foot space and convert it into a shooting range, a price he considered a bargain compared with building from scratch. The Arms Room offers handgun training courses in addition to traditional shooting practice, all in a popular shopping center anchored by Target Corp. and Home Depot Inc. stores.

“It was sort of providential,” Mr. James said in his Arms Room office, surrounded by antique swords and modern firearms. “I never dreamed of a place like this.”

It turns out that non-traditional, “nonretail” tenants like the Arms Room don’t just keep the cash flowing to mall owners, they also bring much-needed foot traffic to their current tenants.

Landlords are embracing unusual tenants as a way to continue drawing visitors to their shopping centers, even if those patrons aren’t necessarily coming to shop. A little extra traffic generated by a gym or a trampoline center is better than an empty storefront that draws no one, they say.

“They’re good users, and they pay good rent,” says David Henry, chief executive ofKimco Realty Corp., which owns stakes in 946 shopping centers world-wide. “In many cases, they are complementary” to the retailers in a given center, he said.

The Arms Room gun range near Houston had a mixed reception. Mr. James’s attorneys advised him to seek written statements from Target and Home Depot declaring that they didn’t object to his business opening in their shopping center. Home Depot agreed, but Target declined, Mr. James said. (Target declined to comment). Later, representatives of PetSmart Inc. thanked him for boosting the center’s customer traffic, he said.

There are no immediate plans for additional Arm Room locations.

Jin Dong, the manager of a Mattress Giant store that shares a wall with the Arms Room, is one of the gun range’s happy neighbors. “People do come in here with guns, and that’s kind of weird. But they have brought a lot of traffic. It’s way better than nothing,” he said. “I’ll tell you one thing, I don’t have to worry about getting robbed, that’s for sure.”

So if this does become the next big thing in commercial real estate, the next time your wife sends you out to the mall pick up that Christian Laboutin bag she’s had on layaway since April, you’ll be able to take your Glock along for the ride and get a hundred rounds worth of practice in. Is this a great country or what?

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  1. That is giant indoor range. Not quite Colorado Springs, but pure awesome. There is an empty formerly Borders down the street, and I’ve saved some money from my part time job. Anybody want to lend me a few million? You will be a platinum member at my range for life.

  2. Do not mock “those geriatric, velour-suited mallwalkers”, sir. In short order, they will become the most enthusiastic users of the gun range and its training courses. And bringing in their children and grandchildren. I see it here in NH all the time. [About half-a-year ago, I met one of our local state representatives – in his seventies – bringing in a half-dozen grandchildren to train at the local range. He was using a suppressed .22 – that way, he said, they wouldn’t be intimidated by the noise][No, I don’t wear velour. I do my walking [about 20 miles per week, besides running] at a nearby 400m track. But with the temperature here diving, I am tempted to try mallwalking]

    BTW, I can sympathize with Target’s reticence. Given their name, they were probably concerned about people confusing the two stores.

  3. Actually Target is worried about their “image” given all of their liberal sponsorships and charitable activities. Publicly they are aghast at the thought – privately they are as giddy as schoolgirls on prom night given the foot traffic. Success breeds success. If you look at a crappy strip mall and it is empty, do you really feel like patronizing that place? Don’t you wonder if something is wrong? But if the site is bustling, hell, you piss all over yourself trying to be part of the action. This applies even more so to women. Granted parking becomes an issue, but they may get into shooting and going to a starbucks or other little bistro/coffeeshop nearby afterwards with their friends to talk for hours. I am surprised at the zoning, but Houston has a lack of it. If they could get that here in suburban STL, I would be all over it.

  4. There are few places you could actually do this. If someone tried to do this in CT, the drama that would ensue would be epic. I can see this Houston, never in most places outside the midwest or south.

    Could you even imagine in NY, NJ, CT or MA — LOL!

    • If you’d have told me 20 years ago that most states would have shall-issue CCW, and the new frontier was no-permit CCW, I’d have laughed at you. Now that it’s a reality, I’ve learned not to limit my imagination. So yes, I can imagine it in NY, NJ, CT, MA. The DC and Chicago gun bans have already been overturned. And I’ve been to the South Philly Archery & Gun Club, so I know that it’s possible to squeeze a very nice shooting range into minimal space in an urban area, with access to public transportation.

      As shooting becomes more culturally accepted all across America, I think it’s only a matter of time.

    • Pascal, there is actually a firing range right in the heart of Manhattan’s Flatiron District. It’s not a large place (7 lanes), but just having a range in Bloomberg’s People’s Paradise is life-affirming.

  5. The range where I shoot is two miles from my home. Sometimes I ride my bike to the range, and sometimes I walk. I’d could jog it, except that I’m carrying a backpack with ammo, guns and shooting accoutrements. Proximity to a good range is one of the reasons I choose this neighborhood for my new residence.

  6. Where I live there’s an empty storefront about 4 shops down from a Cabela’s. I always thought it would be the ideal location for a firing range.

    • Come on down to Texas!

      Within a 15 minute drive from my home or office are three large outdoor gun clubs with reasonable membership fees; one outdoor range that charges by the hour or day, and one very nice, modern, reasonably priced indoor range.

  7. Location is everything. I went to my first IDPA match this past weekend because it was only 10 minutes from where I live. I plan on shooting my first GSSF indoor next month since it is only 15 minutes away. Fortunately, there are quite a few shooting ranges in this area, yet I still don’t shoot as often as I would like to, but more than I would if I had to drive more than 30 minutes to go shoot.

  8. Arms room is a good place. Been there a few times, once to shoot IDPA. Not exactly Houston though. They are in League City, which is about half-way between downtown Houston and Galveston Island.

  9. We’re blessed with quite a few good ranges here in Indianapolis and we are extra blessed to be only about two minutes from the very best one, Marion County Fish & Game! Yay!

  10. Not only is The Arms Room one of my favorite ranges in Texas, the owner has a gorgeous collection of antique pistols, revolvers and long guns for customers to look at which they’re waiting for a lane to open. The Arms Room also hosts a local IPDA club on Monday evenings with a Sunday practice session open to all IDPA members. They have an onsite gunsmith (long guns mostly) and a nice showroom but best of all, they boast the cleanest indoor range I’ve ever shot at.

    Yes, we love our guns here in Texas!

  11. Hmm. I see plenty of empty store fronts. They range for bigger stores such as the two mentioned to smaller bygone local stores. I’m wondering how we got stuck with a Joann Fabrics, Old Time Pottery, and seasonal businesses (think Halloween store for now). If not those then the buildings continue to sit empty. A well run firing range would do wonders for all the local eateries let alone the bass pro shop that assimilated one of our malls.


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