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 wsj.com 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?