The odd couple: Furniture and guns are Post Road merchant’s bread and butter
DARIEN — From the doorstep of Bob Montlick’s Post Road store, the space appears like an ordinary furniture shop.
Rows of unfinished wooden chairs, chests and dressers line the storeroom — stacked high, obstructing the view of what’s behind the furniture and where most of the store’s activity takes place.
A sign reading “Firearms Dept” hangs above a doorway leading to a thriving business at the store since the mid-60s.
The room is filled with boxes of ammo and handguns in display cases. Rifles line the walls behind a counter where employees help customers, most of whom are greeted by their first name. In the middle of it all, Montlick, 80, who walks with a noticeable limp, surveys the scene.
Montlick has owned the store since 1954, but the products he’s sold over the years have often changed. Bob’s began when Montlick, then an 18-year-old recent graduate of Darien High School, took over a business repairing Venetian blinds where he had been working for the previous two years.
“It just evolved,” he said. “It went from the Venetian blinds and furniture finishing, to selling the furniture, to decorative products, including old antique firearms.”
Montlick grew up shooting as a Darien Boy Scout, but didn’t have plans to distribute weapons until he was approached in the mid-1960s when a local seller gave up his license.
“One day, a friend of mine came in that was a Darien policeman with a guy from the ATF (Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives) when Darien Sport Shop was giving up their gun business,” Montlick said. “The guy from the ATF said, ‘Well, I can hook you up with your license to sell modern firearms if you want.’ So that’s where it started, around 1966 or 1967.”
Montlick has been selling guns ever since and is the sole distributor of firearms in Darien at a time when the national debate over gun control is broiling.
Montlick suffered a stroke last year and has ceded control of the firearms department to Hunter Tassitano, his employee of 10 years. Tassitano, 30, grew up in Weston and, like Montlick, established an early relationship with shooting.
“I grew up in a family that hunted and fished and did outdoor stuff, so I was always into the sport of it as a kid,” Tassitano said. “I don’t hunt much anymore, but my family still does. My grandparents on both sides were Italian, so you can imagine they hunted everything they could eat.”
Tassitano said business has recently increased with many fearing potential law changes after the presidential election.
Concern over terrorist attacks and mass shootings have also contributed to a nationwide uptick in the amount of pistol permits issued over the past several years, according to a National Rifle Association spokeswoman. The NRA reported a 59 percent increase in attendance at their basic pistol training classes between 2011 and 2014.
“In Connecticut, and around the country, Americans see that their government can’t always protect them,” NFA spokeswoman Catherine Mortensen said. “People are buying firearms and seeking concealed carry permits in record numbers because they want to be able to protect themselves and their families.“
Darien Chief of Police Duane Lovello told the Board of Selectmen at a meeting earlier this month that his department has seen a “fairly large increase in the number of pistol permits we are issuing over the past couple of years.”
Darien is on pace for a record number of gun permit applications this year with 73 issued through June. The department issued only 43 in all of 2011 and 75 in 2013. In each of the past two years, 99 were issued.
In Stamford, residents are obtaining permits this year at a faster rate than they did in 2013, when applications spiked across Connecticut in the aftermath of the Sandy Hook shootings. The number, which was below 400 in each of the past two years, is also on pace to reach an all-time high. There have been 380 permits issued in Stamford through just the first six months of the year.
Statewide numbers tell a similar story. So far this year, 16,000 people have received pistol permits, compared to 25,000 in all of 2013.
But for the man who learned to shoot in Troop 53, the increase in sales has as much to do with a surging interest in guns for sport than in response to recent tragedies.
“More people want to have a gun at home I guess,” Montlick said. “And over the years, more people target shoot and found out it’s a good sport and have fun doing it.”
Staff writer Nelson Oliveira contributed to this story.