MORGANTOWN — The ongoing saga of Big Daddy Guns and Protect Morgantown took an unexpected turn on Wednesday when the firearms retailer issued a public fundraising challenge to the local community group opposing a new gun store downtown.
Like a professional wrestling retirement match, the stakes are simple — if you lose, you gotta go.
In a Wednesday announcement, Big Daddy Unlimited Public Relations Coordinator Nick Lahera said the idea was spurred by a call from the Monongalia County Deputy Sheriff’s Association, which still needs to raise about $11,000 for its Back to School program serving underprivileged students in the county.
According to Lahera, the company intends to step up for the cause, but wanted to put a little something extra on the line — thus the callout.
“At the end of the challenge, on August 17, 2022, the organization who raises the least amount of money, must cease their operation,” Lahera wrote in the release.
It goes on to state that Big Daddy Guns promises to vacate the space it has under lease in The Deck, the new building at 1050 University Ave., should it lose the challenge.
On the other hand, should the Florida-based company win, “Protect Morgantown will stop their efforts and accept that we will open as expected without any further protests of Big Daddy Guns, its location(s), Big Daddy Unlimited or associated businesses.”
Lahera said he’s hoping to hear from Protect Morgantown organizer Jodi Hollingshead by Friday afternoon as to whether the group intends to accept those terms.
The Dominion Post reached out to Hollingshead for comment, but did not receive a response in time for this report.
Protect Morgantown has been outspoken in its opposition to the way Big Daddy Guns brands and markets itself. The group also opposes the University Avenue location of the store, citing its proximity to the city’s downtown, WVU, Morgantown High and numerous places of worship.
The most recent salvo in this months-long, public back-and-forth came when Starbucks — the anchor tenant and only other business known to be under lease in the recently constructed development — announced it planned to pull its store after meeting with Hollingshead and other representatives of Protect Morgantown.
Whether or not the coffee giant has actually broken its lease with Hardy World, the developer of The Deck, is unclear. Attempts to confirm that information have been unsuccessful.
And even if Protect Morgantown accepts the fundraising challenge and wins, Big Daddy Guns isn’t going far.
The company previously confirmed to The Dominion Post that it was looking for a secondary location.
Big Daddy Guns co-founder Sherrie McKnight said Wednesday that win or lose, “We are going to be in Morgantown. We have every intention of being in Morgantown.”
Even so, she said the company still has a signed lease in hand for The Deck. She said the company is not under lease anywhere else in Monongalia County.
Asked if losing this challenge meant potentially backing out of the Hardy World lease, risking litigation, McKnight said the company didn’t intend to lose.
“Everything we do we’re always going to do with the belief that we’re going to win. We want to raise as much money for these kids as possible,” she said, adding “Even though we are not yet there, we thought this was a great opportunity to do what we said in the press release, and that is to stop the fighting and unite. We can do that.”
Detective Jonathan Friend is the treasurer of the Monongalia County Deputy Sheriff’s Association.
“Our association uses an organization to solicit funds for the various programs that we support. Currently we’re raising money for the Back to School program and our solicitors did, in fact, contact Big Daddy Guns as a business in Monongalia County, just like they do for all businesses.” Friend said, adding neither the association nor the sheriff’s department are directly involved in the fundraising challenge or the wider conversation surrounding the gun store.