Everything Mike Higgins says now is calculated. It has to be. In a political environment where gun control has become the main topic of discussion on most news networks, Higgins is feeling the heat for planning to open a sporting goods shop near the Branford Green, which happens to sell shooting sports equipment, including guns. He’s also getting support from sporting enthusiasts and small business champions.
But his idea to have an outdoor sports business placed on “Main Street” is not novel or pioneering at all. In fact, the plans to open this sporting goods store, now to be called TGS Outdoors – it was formerly The Gun Stock– with Brian Owens, is supposed to be like a re-birth of North Cove Outfitters—the outdoors sporting goods shop, which operated on Main Street in Old Saybrook for 23 years before closing last March. Owens was a manager of the store for 18 years, specializing in the sale of fly fishing equipment, optics and shooting sports.
The difference between Old Saybrook and Branford, said Owens is the width of Main Street and the fact that there was median divider in the road in Old Saybrook.
A sportsman's store
“People would bring their kids in. There was no fear. It was a sportsman store as this will be,” Higgins said.
Higgins explains that he was a loyal customer of North Cove for years and got to know Owens at the store. “It was a store I loved. I learned more about optics and telescopes from Brian than anyone else, ever. It was so much fun to go in there and see all the new things. I was so upset when it closed.”
But the closure of North Cove brought Higgins, a longtime insurance salesman, to consider opening a sportsman's shop of his own featuring the store’s top-selling items. The main departments of TGS Outdoors will be archery, shooting sports and optics – cutlery and hunting/target clothing will also be sold.
Branford proves perfect location
Doing market research, Higgins and Owens decided Branford was the perfect location with its proximity to seven shooting clubs/ranges in a 35-mile radius – one of which is in Branford. Members of these clubs, which cater to as many as 1,000 people each, are the new shop’s target demographic, they said.
“These are guys that I’ve known all my life. They leave town and they go up to Newingtown or they go up to Cabelas and they spend money up there. So I would rather, as a local person, see money spent here,” said Higgins.
Shopping local is something Higgins is very familiar with as his wife Arabella Higgins was the owner of Arabella’s – a clothing and accessory boutique – where TGS Outdoors will be. For more than a decade Arabella worked to make the business a success in the community. She chose to close the shop this past summer in favor of spending more time with her children. You can read more about her journey here.
Bringing new people into downtown Branford
“We are a small business and we support local small business,” said Higgins. “We hope they support us.”
Higgins, a native of Madison, said he’s familiar with local downtown shopping and doesn’t see anything different about the Branford Green from other towns. “Downtown Branford doesn’t have anything that every other downtown – Guilford; Madison – has. They all have beauty salons; they all have nail salons; they all have ice cream shops; they all have little restaurants. In order to bring new people in, you have to bring something different and North Cove Outfitters was that different thing.” He added, “We will be able to bring in people who would normally never come into downtown Branford; now they will.”
Already, Higgins and Owens say they’ve had an impact and not the negative one some have alleged regarding their sale of hunting and target rifles as well as hand guns. “How is this going to affect downtown? We’ve already had an affect. We’ve brought more business to downtown and we’re not even open,” said Higgins. During one of their recent eight-hour courses, more than 20 students, some of whom had never been to the Branford Green, dined at Shoreline Café and shopped at the local clothing boutiques shared Higgins.
Hoping to be a destination store
“We are going to be a destination store. These people are going to come in together: one spouse may come here while the other one goes shopping along the street,” said Higgins of his hope to add to local commerce.
With merchandise for hunting and target shooting – rifles, handguns and archery – there’s still the elephant in the room: will the business provide safeguards against potential crime?
Higgins and Owens are quick to respond, “Yes.”
More security than most banks in town
“An unnamed law enforcement officer said, ‘You have more security than most of the banks in town,’” Higgins commented.
Other safety measures include high-rated glass on the front windows, cameras inside and outside, bars on the windows on the side of the building and a locked metal gate, which will be pulled over the front doors when the business is closed. There are many other safety measures that the business owners do not want to divulge at the moment as well.
The owners said residents should know that guns would never be on display in the store’s windows. Instead, the casual passerby will see a scenic display: the current one features decoy ducks with spinning arms, a deer and trees, a 100-year-old trap clay target thrower and a brass spotting scope.
Local and federal background approvals in place
In a past article about 2013 Branford Business Development, some readers wanted to know how the town would allow a shop that sold guns on the Green as well if the owners had received background checks? The short answer is that the town did approve this business for operation and, yes, the owners have endured federal background checks and licensing to open. Please see more details below.
Although they hope to enhance downtown commerce, TGS Outdoors might not be staying on the Green for the long haul. Higgins and Owens said they have hopes to outgrow their space at 1156 Main Street with the goal to move to a place four times the size. Until then, Higgins and Owns said the goal is provide a small “mom and pop” shop for the outdoors sports enthusiast.
Touting that they are probably one of the only outdoor sports shops with oriental carpets and matching burgundy overhead lighting fixtures, Higgins and Owens said they welcome anyone with concerns to stop by and see the business. They have plans to open within the month.
TGS Outdoors Merchandise
- Shot guns for skeet, trap, target and hunting
- Complete line of gun cleaning accessories
- Lock boxes for ammunition and guns
- Larger lock boxes for rifles
- Hunting/Target clothing
- Traditional and compound archery bows and arrows
- Archery equipment, accessories and gear
- Spotting scopes
- Optics for bird watchers
Education & Service
- Books on hunting and shooting
- Free gun safety class
- CT Pistol Course (fee)
- Gun repair
- Knife sharpening service
- Kitchen knives
- Pocket knives
- Gift knife sets
- No one – with some excpetions for certain officials – can carry or purchase a handgun in the state of Connecticut without a permit
- A rifle can be purchased with a 15-day wait period for background check
- It is mostly illegal for anyone in the state to possess an assault weapon (read more here)
Steps to Open TGS Outdoors
- Owners called Branford Police Chief Kevin Halloran and ran business plan and intent by him.
- One week later, they received comment from Branford Police Department that they did not see an issue with owners proceeding.
- Owners approach Town Hall for approval. Because business does not require change of use (retail to retail), they do not appear in front of Board but are able to go through process with the department.
- The owners make an application for a Federal Firearms License (FFL).
- Owners are fingerprinted, have identification checked and submit to FBI background checks by the ATF to obtain FFL.
- ATF interviews owners, inspects the business and reviews records.
- Local law enforcement visits shop and is required to approve based upon their review of security system. (Branford Fire Department is also made privy to security and given a copy of keys in case of emergency).
- Owners receive FFL license.
- Prepare for opening