For 51 years, the Annandale Small Arms Range has been a gathering place for local gun aficionados, who often stopped by to pop off a few rounds after work or to chat amiably with Drew Smith, the assistant manager armed with a Glock 9mm pistol on his hip.
But early Saturday evening, the managers of the last gun range inside the Beltway packed up their things and, just after sunset, left town.
A dispute between Smith's bosses and the building's landlords couldn't be resolved, so Smith said he had no choice but to clean out the place, take down the cowboy hat hanging on the wall and close the doors for the last time.
"It's going to be missed," Smith said of the neighborhood fixture on Columbia Pike. "You can't re-create what we have here. . . . Older guys from Annandale just come around to talk. People who shot as kids come by and say hello and sit and talk about life. It's like a barbershop setting."
It was a loosely run place where even novice shooters could plunk down a few dollars and rent a gun for an hour, no questions asked. Targets were hand-cranked on pulleys. The armor plating at the back of the alleys was so old that Smith boasted it had bullets from the past 51 years lodged inside.
Longtime customers called the range a vestige of Old Dominion culture that over the years gave way to the changing demographics in the counties close to Washington.
The range opened when there were barely a handful of Koreans in the area, when acres of farmland lay nearby to the west and south. It was a quiet area of Fairfax County, older residents said.
Now Annandale, known unofficially as Washington's Koreatown, is bustling with commerce and traffic-choked roads.
Stores with Korean signs -- some with no English translation -- surrounded the tiny range, which was in the basement of an aging white building near Columbia Pike and Little River Turnpike.
Koreatown could soon come to this little corner of Annandale, too: Proposals call for the now-vacated basement to be turned into an Asian karaoke club.
"You think we need another karaoke bar?" Smith asked sarcastically. "There are only like three in the span of two blocks."
New and old Annandale did not always mesh easily, although Smith noted that on Fridays, which was "ladies' night," the range would sometimes draw curious young Asian women who came for the half-price bullets and the experience of shooting a gun.
But the range's clientele was largely non-immigrant through the years.
Mark Mills, 46, who has lived in Annandale all his life, said he has accepted the changes to his community, but not all of them make him feel welcome. English is a second language in many of the shops, for instance.
"You don't feel you aren't needed here, but you definitely feel they [the Koreans] can get along without you," he said.
The gun range was a refuge for him, he said, and now that was going, too. "It's disappointing," he said.
Not everyone was upset. Shoppers in the parking lot at the nearby Giant supermarket often would jump at the sound of gunfire as they pushed carts of food to their cars. Patrons of Po Jang Ma Cha, a Korean restaurant above the range, also complained about the constant loud bangs, its owners said.
Some people did not have the stomach for a gun range -- literally. Steve Park, 46, of Centreville, who emigrated from Korea a year ago, tried shooting for the first time there on Friday. He said he thought it would be fun. Instead it made him feel sick.
"I feel kind of strange because it's the first time. I don't feel good," Park said after using a .38-caliber revolver. Shooting a gun "didn't make me feel good. I felt like I was shooting somebody. . . . I don't think I'll come again."
The reasons for Annandale Small Arms' demise were murky and its end was sudden; many regular customers did not know it was coming.
May Han, whose family owns the building that houses the range, said lack of maintenance and poor communication with the owners contributed to the closing. She said it was hard for her family to determine who was in charge of the range and whether it had changed hands. The range's owners also did not soundproof the walls, she said, despite requests from her family.
In general, Han said, Annandale Small Arms just didn't seem to fit in the new Annandale.
"The problem with them being there is every five seconds people hear a hugely loud bang every time a gun is being shot," Han said. "It's a little bit frightening because you just don't know."
"Were they not wanted there?" she asked rhetorically. "Honestly, if they were just a quiet business and it was not a nuisance, it might have been okay. But the noise was really unbearable."
The principal manager of the range, Robert "Bobby" Payne, did not return several telephone messages and was not at the range during its last days. The owners, who belong to a partnership called DDH Ltd., also did not return messages left for them through Smith, the assistant manager. Smith, in turn, said he had little knowledge of the owners' quarrel with the Han family and was just helping run the range. The owners, through Smith, denied permission for The Washington Post to take photographs inside the range.
Most customers interviewed last week, unaware of the dispute, said they came to the range to spend lazy summer evenings, do a little target practice or show off their guns to each other. Several said they often stayed until closing to help Smith sweep up empty shells.
"It was, like, the best gun range around," said Brandon Nelson, 21, of Annandale. "You come here after work and talk and come down to shoot and have fun. It's a good thing to do if you don't have anything else to do."
The location was unbeatable, added Brian Adams, 43, of Arlington. He said he first went shooting there in 1972 with his dad, who was an FBI agent at the time. Other gun ranges "are just too difficult to get to, especially in rush hour."
The closing also sent the Yorktown High School varsity rifle team scrambling for another place to practice. The Arlington County team, which shoots .22-caliber rifles in regional competitions, is made up of 10 students, from freshmen to seniors. Its logo is painted on the wall of the range.
"It's just a shame, really," said Coach Traci Yates. "We are looking for alternatives at this time. I know it's been especially hard for the range owners. It's been a hard situation, I know."
Throughout last week, a steady stream of loyal patrons stopped by. A few were teary-eyed. Some came to mark the last weekend of a range they had known for decades.
"I hate to see the range go," said Ron McKown, a certified firearms instructor, who taught a class at the range and has been shooting there since 1985. "But what can you say . . . that's the way it is. The owner of the building said, 'That's it.' So we are not going to have that range anymore."