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Gun shop quietly fades away

Mel Warren and his gun shop are going out not with a bang, but with an auction Saturday, Nov. 15, at the Red Barn.

Just the fact that Warren's Trading Post will soon be history is sure to disappoint area gun owners. Earlier this month Warren reached his 20th year as owner of the Trading Post.

"It'll be difficult, a big change for me," he admitted. "I like dealing with people, and you see a lot of the same faces year after year. I hope I can put it all behind me. But I'm not going to be just sitting back in my rocking chair."

Warren said some customers ask him not to retire, but he replies that at age 67, with many grandchildren and even some great-grandchildren to spend time with, he has every right to stop working and do more of what he wants.

"I've got 20 years of fishing to catch up on," Warren said. "I also want more time for deer hunting and shooting trap.

"I have a 14-year-old granddaughter who has been shooting with me the last two years, and that's been real nice. I'm also going to do more biking, go on some of the trails, like the Red Cedar Trail."

From an early age, Warren said guns were a part of his growing up.

"I remember being fascinated by an old muzzle loader we had in the family that belonged to my great-grandfather who was in the Civil War. He fought at Gettysburg," Warren said. "I guess I've just always liked guns, traded and repaired them my whole life. My mother said I cut my teeth on guns."

Warren was born and raised in Downsville next to The Creamery. He attended Menomonie High School.

He was a tooling engineer at UFE Inc. in Stillwater, Minn., and then in River Falls. When he got laid off, Warren took a job as janitor at UW-River Falls.

The opportunity came along to buy The Trading Post, then in 200 block of North Main Street, from Chuck Flanscha. Since it gave Warren a chance to earn a living through his passion for guns, he couldn't pass it up.

His reliable sidekick, Bob Girardi, a retired 3M employee, has worked at The Trading Post as a gunsmith for the entire time Warren has run the business. Girardi said he now plans to "retire full time" and really get into his woodworking hobby.

Warren's daughter, Cindy Yunker, who works at UW-RF, has done all The Trading Post accounting for the two decades her dad has been in business.

"I hate to see the place close after putting 20 years of my life into it," Warren said. "I've been trying to sell it. There's been a lot of interest but no takers. The biggest thing is that people don't seem to want to get tied down with all the hours it takes to run a business."

While most of his customers are men, Warren has noticed more and more women who are at ease shopping for guns or buying them for their husbands as gifts.

"There are also more ladies now out at the gun club shooting trap or using handguns," he said. "That's something that has changed in this business."

Another change, a minor hassle Warren calls it, is the background checks now required by the government for gun purchases.

"The paperwork piles up a little more than it used to," he said.

Warren said his customer base has remained steady even after he moved from Main Street to Walnut 14 years ago.

"People who want this stuff know where to look and find my place," he said.

Warren added that when ShopKo came to River Falls in the 1990s, his business went up.

"What it did was bring more people from out of town into the area, and then they came downtown," Warren said. "You might have a couple from Maiden Rock where the guy drops off the wife at ShopKo and stops off at my place, or maybe they both drop in after going to ShopKo first."

Warren believes the same would hold true if another huge retailer like Wal-Mart located on the edge of River Falls.

"It'll just bring more folks passing through the city and many of them will end up downtown," he said.

Warren said that when The Trading Post was on Main Street, he refused to sign a petition opposing the building of the Hwy. 65 bypass.

"People were still going to find their way to the downtown," he said. "With the bypass taking away traffic, it makes it easier for customers to get around here and park. And who needs all those semis driving through town?"

Warren said he'll continue to reload and sell shells to the local River Falls Sportsmen's Club.

"I'm going to get a cell phone and I'll still be working with the gun club out of my house," he said.

Jerry Rodewald, gun club president, is pleased Warren will keep that connection.

"Mel is a real good sportsman," Rodewald said. "I don't know of anyone else who has done so much for youth, in sponsoring kids on shooting teams, giving them shells, encouraging them, offering them instruction."

As much as anything, Rodewald said The Trading Post is valued for its camaraderie.

"It's a gathering spot for the sportsmen in the area, and we'll all miss that," he said. "Mel has always been very good with shooting tips in general, but especially for trap shooting. He also knows ways to show you how to make a gun fit right. He is a super nice guy to deal with."

The Nov. 15 auction at the Red Barn, highways 63 and 29, will include sales of Remmington 1100 shotguns and rifles, a Winchester 1300 cameo stock with a slug barrel, and other long guns, also handgun grips, loading supplies, gunstocks, scopes, gun cases, display cabinets, tool carts, gun vises, an air compressor, desk, drill press table, bench grinder, benches and various tools relating to the gunsmith trade.

The Trading Post will stay open next week, but Warren said he will be in and out preparing for the auction.