SOUTH KINGSTOWN — Since word broke last month that Universal Firearms would be closing permanently, there’s been a revolving door of reminiscent patrons, each who holds dear the little arms shop with a whole lot of history.
“This is where a lot of people got their first guns,” General Manager Scott McGuinan said earlier this week, just three days before the store, located at 265 Main St. in Wakefield, would close for good. “It has sentimental value to a lot of people in the area.”
McGuinan stood Wednesday in the shop, totally empty save for some handguns atop a display case, a stack of boxes by the entrance and a few American flags set gently on the counter. He recounted the store’s history, and thought about the impact the store has had over the years.
Despite closing for business, Universal Firearms also celebrated a milestone anniversary this year.
Founded in 1988 by Hank Almonte—who had opened the shop as a sort of retirement project—Universal Firearms has over the last 30 years found its niche in the community as a collector and retailer of new, used and antique guns and militaria.
“A lot of what we did was help people find a little bit of history in the pieces that they had,” McGuinan explained. “A lot of times we saw people who had family members pass away, and a little piece of their history would come here.”
“That was a big part of our enjoyment,” he continued, “to spread a little bit of history through the firearms that we sold.”
With firearms and artifacts from the Civil War, World War II, and many other conflicts both in between and since, the shop has been a go-to for military memorabilia spanning more than a century.
“People used to come here to get fairly inexpensive, used rifles to teach their kids to shoot with,” McGuinan added.
Since he started working at Universal about two years ago, McGuinan said he’s enjoyed learning the stories behind the guns on sale. In fact, it was his interest in firearms and their histories that attracted McGuinan to the business in the first place.
“My first rifle was a World War II rifle,” added McGuinan, who returned to South Kingstown two years ago after serving for five years in the U.S. Marines.
That passion for military history is shared by the store’s current owner, Tim Gray. Gray, who purchased Universal in 2016, is also founder of the World War II Foundation, and has produced and directed some 20 documentaries featuring members of the WWII generation.
Although the store’s shelves now lay empty, a perusal of old photos of the shop tells of its former antiquey vibe. Old shotguns and rifles dress the walls; decades-old pistols and revolvers rest in glass cases.
“A lot of these guns have a lot of history behind them,” McGuinan added Wednesday.
McGuinan said he’s noticed over the last decade that gun and sport shops have been trending away from carrying old firearms and historical pieces.
“There’s not a lot of places around that [sell used and antique firearms],” he said.
But even as the number of brick-and-mortar businesses which sell vintage firearms shrinks—and even as Universal has tried to hold as much as it can to the past—competition from online retailers is more fierce now than it’s ever been.
“Just like with any other business, there’s going to be [the equivalent of] an Amazon,” McGuinan said. “Unfortunately that’s really what does it to most—the online stuff is tough to compete with.”
“It’s too bad,” he continued. “But that’s unfortunately the way business goes.”
Sport shooting certainly isn’t dwindling though—McGuinan said its popularity actually seems to be growing in the area.
Still, facing a swell in the popularity of online shopping, Universal Firearms will close its doors—and with it, a bit of Wakefield’s history—on Saturday.
“Thanks to everyone who’s supported us over the last 30 years,” McGuinan said, surrounded by empty cases and bare shelves once filled with all sorts of firearms and accessories. “It’s been a great run.”