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After owning and operating Up the Creek Antiques on North Tower Avenue for 45 years, Dan Horwath was ready to retire. With the antique business shifting, his son, Jason Horwath, wanted to try a new venture: owning a gun store.
“My father and I discussed this for many years, and when things started to come to a head, it was like, either do it or don’t, but quit talking about it,” Horwath said. “I needed something to do, so that’s what we did.”
Jason Horwath opened Castle Guard Sports, located on Cooks Hill Road, in 2011, and has been serving the gun community here ever since. The store primarily sells firearms, ammo and accessories, such as rifles, pistols and shotguns. The only problem, lately, is finding those items to stock the inventory.
Since the COVID-19 pandemic hit in March, firearm and ammunition sales have surged to a record high in 2020. The National Shooting Sports Foundation (NSSF) found that 17.2 million background checks were completed this year, compared to 15.7 million in 2016, the previous record high. Firearm purchases have increased every month since March. In addition, the NSSF found that by August, first-time gun buyers had grown to nearly five million in 2020.
Castle Guard Sports has also seen a dramatic increase in sales this year, Horwath said. Close to half his sales the past few months have been from first-time buyers. The new market of customers created from the pandemic, combined with veteran gun consumers, has created a huge demand and a nationwide shortage of supplies. The firearm and ammunition industry was set up to maintain the demand of the veteran consumers, and has been unable to keep up with the millions of new customers, he said.
He said the rush of first-time buyers first arrived in July, when peaceful protests against police brutality turned violent and riots broke out in cities across the nation.
Horwath’s best sellers have been ammunition and handguns, two items that have been increasingly difficult to find this year as both have been flying off the shelves, not just at his store but nationwide.
Handguns as well as 9mm ammunition, which is by far the most popular right now, are very difficult to get, he said. Horwath hasn’t received a shipment of new 9mm ammo since May or June. For a while, he was buying it retail just to have some on the shelf, marking it up by a dollar so he wasn’t losing money. It was the only way he could find it as none of his wholesale suppliers were coming through.
“Inventory supply is a huge problem right now,” Horwath said. “There’s an incredible demand. It’s near impossible on most things.”
Horwath said it’s almost easier for consumers to find ammunition than it is for him, as manufacturers are serving big box stores before the mom and pop shops, which fight for the leftovers. And there hasn’t been much leftovers this year.
The only firearm Horwath can resupply fairly reliably right now are hunting rifles, but even those are becoming increasingly difficult to find. He can get them but customers can’t be picky about makes or models, he said. Horwath has people calling to check on supplies every day all day.
“It’s all day long,” Horwath said. “And they’re making calls all over trying to find stuff, and they’re not surprised when I say, ‘No, I’m all out, and I have no idea when I’m getting more.’”
Even with the craziness of 2020, being a gun store owner has been a rewarding experience, Horwath said, mostly because of the people and customers he’s met along the way.
“I’ve met a lot more people, percentage-wise, doing this than we did in the furniture business,” Horwath said. “It’s just an amazing group of people.”
Castle Guard Sports is located at 3664 Cooks Hill Rd. in Centralia, and is open from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m., Monday to Friday, and 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. on Saturdays.
Reporter Eric Trent can be reached at email@example.com. Visit chronline.com/business for more coverage of local businesses.