Neighborhood e-mail lists in Arlington have been burning up for the past week over news that an empty storefront where a weight-reduction salon once stood will open for business selling handguns, rifles, ammunition and gear.
Residents of Cherrydale and Maywood in North Arlington — neighborhoods of rolling residential streets less than a mile from the Potomac River — say a gun shop is simply not appropriate along a stretch of Lee Highway where businesses such as a flower shop, a hardware store and a grocery cater to the families living nearby.
And they have registered their alarm with a Change.org petition asking the landlord to break the lease. As of late Monday afternoon, the petition had collected more than 1,700 signatures.
“Kids walk past it to the 7-Eleven all the time,” said Christina Friedli, one of many residents who posted their dismay online. “I wouldn’t want a sex shop there, either. A coffee shop or balloon store would be better. . . . This is in close proximity to schools and preschools.”
Nova Firearms, a gun shop in McLean, is planning to open for business at the Arlington location this summer, with a grand opening planned for August. Owner James Gates said he chose Arlington because a friend knew the landlord and heard about the vacancy.
After outgrowing his McLean shop, Gates had been looking for a second location inside the Capital Beltway; the business’s Web site, which offers free shipping, brags that Nova Firearms is “The original gun shop inside the Washington, DC Beltway!”
Gates, a Marine Corps veteran who also provides personal protection and IT security services, said his future neighbors have nothing to fear.
“We’re not trying to make anybody mad or upset. We want to be part of the community,” he said in a telephone interview from his store in McLean. “We’ll have security and classes on safe handling of firearms, and safe carry. People who have questions should give us a call and give us a chance.”
They might also take a look fewer than 10 blocks east on Lee Highway, where National Pawnbrokers has been selling firearms for years. The manager there, who identified himself as David, said gun sales are a steady and uncontroversial part of the business.
That’s not entirely surprising in gun-friendly Virginia, where the state constitution asserts “the right of the people to keep and bear arms” and where state law prohibits local governments from adopting any law or policy “governing the purchase, possession, transfer, ownership, carrying, storage or transporting of firearms, ammunition.”
So even in liberal Arlington, gun shops are fair game.
That has not stopped Nova Firearms’ opponents from pressing; they have asked the county government to look into whether the store meets all its legal requirements.
Arlington County Attorney Stephen MacIsaac said there is little local government can do other than make sure the business is in compliance with zoning.
“This is just a retail use, so it likely would sit within the proper zoning category,” he said.
Diane Warin, a resident who lives along nearby Military Road, said Friday that she had been unaware of the pending change but is “very much” against it.
“I come here all the time for the shops — Company Flowers, Portabellos,” Warin said as she headed for her car. “This is a community with a lot of families. I would not be in favor of it at all.”
Gates said that as far as he knows, the lease is still on. The landlord, Kostas Kapasouris, did not respond to requests for comment.
Gates said he welcomes all of his neighbors to the grand opening — and he noted that not everyone in the area opposes the store.
“A lot of our customers already live in Arlington,” he said.