Businessman David E. Pidgeon, owner of Pidgeons Gun Shop and Gunsmithing located on Route 7 in New Haven, Vt., is still pinching himself-he can't believe he's been in business for a half-a-century this month.
In the 50 years since he became Vermont's premiere gun dealer and gunsmith, Pidgeon, "the Gun Doctor", estimates he's repaired over 50,000 weapons locally. And up until the 1990s, he even conducted exotic hunting safaris to Mexico, South America and Canada. His biggest customer base come from Addison, Rutland and Chittenden counties in Vermont, but there are others who visit from as far away as New Mexico.
The Bridport native started his business in June 1959 as a means to supplement his income in dairy farming. His parents, French-Canadian farmers Theodore and Helen Pidgeon, were barely paying the bills during a depression in the dairy business-a situation not unlike today's.
"I simply had to earn more money on the side," Pidgeon said. "My friends, Cary Marshall, and his brother George Marshall who used to own the Marshall John Deere dealership (now Hendy Brothers), helped me get this business off the ground. I started out with custom reloading and repairing, primarily of hunting rifles and handguns; I branched out from there."
Pidgeon said his business started at a good time, just when Addison County lost its premiere gunsmith, J. Bushnell Smith of Weybridge.
"Smith died in a tragic house fire in 1958," he said, "so there was a real need for this type of business."
The gun shop first opened at what is now Misty Knoll Farm in New Haven. After struggling with the dairy operation, Pidegon finally auctioned off the family farm in 1986; in 1989 he built a new house with adjoining shop at the current Route 7 location.
Pidgeon has seen a lot of changes in the business since the 1950s. Since 1968, gun control laws have negatively affected the industry, however, ironically, more people than ever are buying guns and stockpiling ammunition-including a big increase in female gunownership and safety training.
"We didn't need a license until 1968, the year of the King and Kennedy murders," said Pidgeon, "and there was no background check until that time. If I knew the customer there was no problem-no forms, no federal paperwork to fill out."
Ah, the good old days. Since 1968, lawmakers and special interest groups have tried to chip away at the U.S. Second Amendment with mixed results. In some respects, as Pidgeon sees it, gun control efforts have ended up with more citizens armed.
"I never got into the assault weapons end of it," Pidgeon said, "I'm not happy with the importation of these weapons; it has done nothing for the American worker."
Perhaps Pidgeon's luckiest business break came in the 1970s when he linked up with Montana wheat farmer, turned gun dealer, Joe DeSaye of J&G Sales fame.
Finding a loophole in Smith & Wesson's now defunct regional gun distribution plan, Pidgeon would buy S&W firearms for DeSaye to help build up what has since gone on to become the 500-pound gorilla of Internet gun dealers, J&G Sales.com. For a 15-year period, Pidgeon raked in $250,000 in annual sales with DeSaye "partnership" until S&W changed its ways during the mid 1980s.
Pidgeon's business has always focused on the hunter and gun hobbyist. But occasionally, he has benefited from pop cultural eruptions such as Hollywood movie fads. Starting in 1971, Clint Eastwood's "Dirty Harry" film series spurred a new generation to firearms-big caliber handguns. The fictional Dirty Harry .357 S&W Magnum became the thing to pack. But an increase in violent crime in the 1970s was also spurring customers to take action regarding their own defense-just as America's ubiquitous liberal judges, who seemed to relish making laws from the bench, appeared to be siding with criminals and not the victims.
"Today there's a lot of interest in collecting," Pidgeon said. "For example, pre-1964 Winchesters are very valuable. Also, speciality items and limited editions are popular. And in this economy, we're seeing more young people selling their heirloom guns for needed cash."
Pidgeon is all fired up about the future. While he sees some troubling trends in the business, he maintains a bouyant level of optimism. And while he's concerned about anti-gun groups-even in Vermont-he believes most Americans will understand the importance of the Second Amendment, written in 1791-the amendment protecting our right to keep and bear arms from infringement by the federal government.
A few years ago, Pidgeon started a website-www.pidgeonsgunshop.com-which now enjoys a brisk cyber trade with nearly 65,000 hits per month.
"I am amazed at how well known I am in this business," Pidgeon said. "Chris Hodgson of Hodgson Powder Company in Kansas recently called me to congratulate me on my 50th business anniversary. I guess I'm a rare breed." Pidgeon is indeed a rare breed-the average lifespan of typical gunshop is only two years.
Check it Out: Pidgeon's Gun Shop & Gunsmithing, U.S. Route 7 (3088 Ethan Allen Hwy.) in New Haven. Hours: 1-9 p.m. Winter hours: 1-7:30 p.m. Call 453-2104.