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Big Daddy Guns pushing forward despite community pushback

MORGANTOWN— Big Daddy Enterprises Public Relations Coordinator Nicholas Lahera said the Florida-based company has not faced the kind of community resistance it’s receiving in Morgantown.

Big Daddy Unlimited is the parent company of Big Daddy Guns, which plans to open a firearm retail location in The Deck — the new development at 1050 University Ave.

While it wasn’t an agenda item, the issue drew a crowd to the most recent Morgantown City Council meeting — some to speak in support of the store, most to speak against.

Lahera traveled from Gainesville, Fla., to attend. So did Sherrie McKnight, the company’s co-founder.

“This is actually a first for us. We have never had a store that has run into all these challenges before,” Lahera said, noting the company’s headquarters and first retail location are in Gainesville, the politically left-leaning home of the University of Florida.

Lahera said the company signed a lease on the Morgantown location in October.

Asked if he believed the May 24 school shooting in Uvalde, Texas, and subsequent media coverage, has fueled the pushback, Lahera said “That’s most likely the cause.”

The opposition to the Morgantown location is being spearheaded by a group called Protect Morgantown, which says the proposed location is simply not appropriate.

The group contends a gateway corridor into the city within walking distance of WVU, Morgantown High School and dozens of churches is no place for Big Daddy Guns.

One of the avenues being explored by that group is a zoning text amendment that would add a definition for “firearms sales establishments” to the city’s zoning code and make such establishments permissible by right in shopping center districts (B-5) and permissible by conditional use approval in neighborhood (B-1) and service (B-2) business districts.

The Deck is located in a general business district (B-4).

Asked if the city could change its zoning laws in order to block a specific business, Morgantown Communications Director Andrew Stacy responded, “The city is entitled to have generally applicable zoning regulations.”

Lahera said he doesn’t believe it can, and questions if there’s even enough time to change the law to stop the business from opening.

“I don’t see the timeline working in their favor. It’s a large process to change zoning anywhere. So I don’t see it being a successful effort,” he said. “If it were to be a successful effort, I don’t believe it would be something that we would just take lying down. I do question the legality myself, but I’m not the company’s lawyer …”

Protect Morgantown organizer Jodi Hollingshead said she’s confident the zoning changes will become law but concedes it may not happen in time to stop Big Daddy Guns.

Which is why the group has taken a multi-pronged approach with the goal of putting pressure on Starbucks, an anchor tenant of the development, and Hardy World, the development’s owners.

“We’re independently taking on some phone calls and emails to let them know how we feel and let them know we’re not interested in patronizing any of Hardy World’s businesses if they allow this to happen,” Hollingshead said. “We’re appealing to Starbucks. They like to tout themselves as a progressive company, but this isn’t a great look for them given our country’s mass shooting epidemic. We want the higher-ups in Starbucks aware of what’s going on.”

Lastly, and most directly, the group is looking at the city.

“They haven’t done anything to make us mad yet, so we want to play nice with them,” Hollingshead said of Morgantown City Council. “But we also want them to know that we’re not going to let up and we understand their power and what they could do to stop this.”

According to Stacy, the company has filed an application for a business license from the city.

Asked what that process entails, Stacy explained, “Part of the application for a business license includes a new business checklist. The checklist must be reviewed and approved by Planning, Code Enforcement and the Fire Marshal’s Office. If all three approve, then a business license is issued by the Finance Department.”

While Lahera said he isn’t able to provide a timeline for the Morgantown store opening, he noted it won’t be the company’s next location to come online.

“I’m pretty sure we are early in the process,” he said.

Hollingshead said if and when Big Daddy Guns opens its doors in Morgantown, Protect Morgantown will be there.

“Our presence will be known when they open,” she said. “It will be real difficult to get into that parking lot.”

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