ATWATER -- Downtown Atwater took on a party atmosphere Sunday as hundreds of people lined up along Broadway Avenue for a chance the check out the city's new gun shop.
Stage Stop Sporting Goods at 1175 Broadway Ave., Atwater's only full-fledged gun retailer, had its grand-opening Sunday.
Owner Joey Verna said despite all the advertising he did before Sunday's event, he was still taken aback by the turnout. More than 600 people came through the doors, while others stayed outside and enjoyed the barbecue and radio booths.
Some people waited in line for more than 2 hours to enter the store.
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"I didn't think it would be that big," he said. "We were surprised."
Verna also opened Stage Shop Sporting Goods in Mariposa about two years ago. He said he thought Atwater would be a good market for another shop since he gets a lot of traffic from that area at his Mariposa store.
Many local firearm retailers have reported sales spikes of 75 percent or more recently as some lawmakers push for stricter gun control following deadly shootings in Connecticut and Colorado.
The suddenly high demand has made it tough for some retailers to keep firearms in stock, especially smaller gun shops that may have a hard time keeping their inventory up.
Verna said that was a concern for him before he opened, but he already had so much invested in his business, he decided to forge ahead.
"Everything is really hard to get," he said, adding that it's critical for retailers to have good relationships with their dealers. "We're getting guns in there every day."
Frank Pietro, Atwater's police chief and interim city manager, knows Verna and said he has a respectable reputation.
"He runs a fantastic business and he's a good business owner," Pietro said.
Atwater's financial situation is still bleak, but getting better, Pietro said. Businesses like Stage Stop Sporting Goods are helping build up the city's tax base.
"We are encouraging businesses to locate here as much as we can," he said.
Pietro said while there are other licensed firearms dealers in Atwater, Stage Stop Sporting Goods is the only business specializing in that area.
Mayor Joan Faul said she was "amazed" by how many people came out to the store's grand opening.
"I thought it was very nice to have that many people downtown," she said.
The store should help keep tax dollars local and reduce sales-tax leakage to other areas, Faul noted.
Verna said his shop offers a wide-array of hunting rifles, tactical rifles and pistols as well as shooting supplies, accessories, archery equipment and tournament bass fishing gear.
There's a gunsmith at the shop, Verna said. Concealed-carry classes are also available.
The store is open Tuesday to Saturday from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m.
Reporter Mike North can be reached at (209) 385-2453 or firstname.lastname@example.org.