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STURGEON BAY – Not only is Door County getting perhaps its first full-service gun store, it's also getting an innovative indoor shooting range and innovative protective display cases. And, it's in a visible building on a busy city corridor that's been waiting for redevelopment.
Virlee Gunworks Shooting Center quietly opened Thursday in the former Palmer Johnson shop on Egg Harbor Road. Owner and gunsmith Scott Virlee and his staff plan to make a bigger splash with a grand opening from 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. Saturday, July 31, that featured free food, representatives from a number of gun and accessory manufacturers, in-store specials and gun giveaways.
The more than 10,000-square-foot Sturgeon Bay store is a second location in Northeast Wisconsin for Virlee, who graduated from the Colorado School of Trades with a degree in gunsmithing in 2003, then opened a one-man gunsmith shop in 2009. He went on to open Virlee Gunworks in New Franken in 2011 as a gun sales and service store, then expanded the shop to double its original size four years later.
Besides getting customers from the nearby metropolitan Green Bay area, Virlee said he found a lot of Door County gun owners and prospective buyers were traveling down the peninsula to visit the New Franken store, which led him to consider Door County as a possible second location.
While guns and some accessories are available at a couple of local stores, Virlee's store is able to perform services that range from minor repairs and maintenance to alterations and custom work. He said staff at the Sturgeon Bay shop will be able to handle a lot of the work, with more complicated service work done in the New Franken shop where he has more gunsmiths on staff.
"We have a really strong customer base in Door County," Virlee said. "It's just a great community. There's not a lot up here for sales and service with an indoor range."
Being able to rehabilitate the former Palmer Johnson shop for the new gun store, the latest in a series of older, unused buildings being redeveloped along the Egg Harbor Road corridor, was an added perk for Virlee.
Originally a Save a Buck grocery store, renowned Sturgeon Bay yacht manufacturer Palmer Johnson bought the property in 1992 and used it for storage, upholstery, painting and light woodworking before closing its Sturgeon Bay facilities in 2015. A group called 1023 Egg Harbor Road LLC bought the property in 2017, but its only tenant until now was a landscaping company that occupies about two-thirds of the space. One of the partners in 1023 Egg Harbor Road LLC, Steve Estes, is a partner in the gun store.
Virlee said the open concept of the building allowed him to design the store the way he wanted, with room for not just the retail displays but also the gun shop, classrooms and the eight-lane range.
"We came across this building not being used, and it was a great space for us," Virlee said. "I wanted to utilize this building for something, clean it up."
Besides the guns themselves — semi-automatics, bolt-action and pump-action from all major manufacturers, Virlee said — the shop sells ammunition, sights and binoculars, cases and lockboxes, suppressors and accessories ranging from shirts to gun-themed home goods. Rentals are available for those who might want to try a gun before buying it.
RELATED: Groundbreaking planned for gun store, shooting range opening in former Palmer Johnson shop in Sturgeon Bay
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With trap shooting and hunting being long-popular pastimes in Door County, Virlee said he expects to see customers with a range of intended uses for their firearms, as he does in the New Franken store.
"We get a little bit of both, a mix of everyone," Virlee said. "We get a lot from the gun clubs, some recreational shooters, some competitive, some hunters, some brand new shooters. We get kids who want to learn to shoot, we help them out with their parents."
The eight-lane range is so innovative, Virlee expects it to be an added attraction. It's a live ammunition range whose targets appear via a video projection system, so shooters can call up a range of stationary or moving targets. Virlee said the system is the first of its kind in Wisconsin and one of 15 in use nationwide, with a cost of about $130,000 for the projector and software alone.
"Anybody who's ever seen it, they're just blown away by it," he said. "There's 20 or 30 different targets, they can be moving, spinning, bowling pins, the standard stationary targets. It's almost like playing a video game with live ammo. It's definitely state of the art."
The way many of the guns are displayed is one of the innovations in the store. The handguns and other smaller items are housed in high-security display cases made by Madison-based Hoffman Manufacturing Corp., which is offering them to retailers after a national sporting goods retailer commissioned the company to design cases that couldn't be breached by anything that might be used in a burglary — sledge hammer, crowbar, gunfire, hatchet — within three minutes. Thus far, no one has been able to break into them after 15 minutes of attempts, according to the company.
"They're the best out there, the best in the industry," Virlee said of the Hoffman cases. "You can hit them with a sledge hammer, hit them with gunfire, they're not going to break."
Virlee said he expects to start offering classes in the next month or so, from basic firearms training and maintenance to classes on personal defense and concealed carry.
Also, yearly memberships are available for individuals and families, along with corporate, law enforcement and military memberships and a six-month "Snow Bird Membership." They include discounts on classes, invites to member events, a Virlee Gunworks T-shirt, shooting range fees and range reservations.
Virlee Gunworks Shooting Center is at 1019 Egg Harbor Road, Sturgeon Bay. Regular hours are from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. Mondays through Fridays, 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. Saturdays and 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Sundays. For more information, call 920-818-1034 or visit virleegunworks.com or facebook.com/VirleeGunworks.
Contact Christopher Clough at 920-741-7952, 920-562-8900 or [email protected]
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