Highland Arms gun shop coming to Elkader

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New business owner Garett Hamilton stands in front of what will become Highland Arms, a gun shop that is set to open on Elkader’s Main Street in mid-December.

By Willis Patenaude, Times-Register


It was a life changing career shift that started in a spare bedroom with about 10 guns that quickly outgrew the space, eventually overrunning the rest of the house, until Garett Hamilton decided it was time to expand and bring the gun store Highland Arms to Main Street Elkader. 


It was the culmination of a year of planning, saving money, paying off student loans and dealing with all the regulations and paperwork. 


The back story of Highland Arms doesn’t have the romanticism of other businesses—something Hamilton openly admitted. So where did the motivation come from? 


It all stems from Hamilton growing up around hunting and shooting, which is part of the cultural landscape of northeast Iowa. It also has a little bit to do with time and aging and what we do while we’re here. The 29-year-old talked briefly about leaving a legacy, and a family grown business does that far more than a regular job. He also realized he was young enough to make an attempt at a career transition, recognizing that if he didn’t do it now, he might never do it at all. 


“I was sitting there and I thought, ‘I could stay where I am doing really well, or I’m young enough that I can take a chance,’ so I decided to take a chance,” Hamilton said. 


About a year ago, with the support of family and friends, he mapped out a plan full of daily and monthly goals to smooth the transition from his forestry job into full-time gun shop owner. In the beginning, it was a small time operation facing the challenges associated with all new small businesses, such as getting supplies, which has been more difficult by the ongoing shipping crisis related to COVID-19. 


But Hamilton, an ambitious person by nature, was not deterred. He made phone call after phone call to suppliers until they’d take him and the business seriously. The perseverance began to pay off and the shop grew. 


After that, it was a process of getting the word out, something Hamilton believed was aided by a customer service experience that “treats people nicely” and finds what the customer wants in a friendly atmosphere and affordable prices. 


When the time came to leave the confines of the home, Hamilton looked around at his options, checking out a couple of buildings around northeast Iowa. He ultimately settled on a location in Elkader, a place he considers “friendly” and a “great community to be in.” It’s a community where his daughter, Lyla, is a student at Central and where his dad would visit Maury Glesne, the longtime owner of the recently sold Coast to Coast hardware store, which also served as the local gun store. 


This fact means Hamilton will be filling a void left by Maury’s departure, but it goes beyond just business. Not only does Hamilton’s daughter attend Central, creating roots to the community Hamilton wants to be part of, but he has also done, and currently does, sports sponsorships.


“Elkader is where me and my daughter want to build a life [and] I’m invested in the community and its success,” Hamilton said. 


One question that emerged during the interview was how a gun shop would fit with the arts and culture vibe of downtown. But rather than see it as a clash of aesthetics, Hamilton believed the store will fit in and fast become a destination spot that will draw tourists and residents alike who will also venture out on Main Street and visit other establishments. 


He also believed in the location because, after the closure of Coast to Coast, Hamilton received requests from locals and others to move into the town because there is a market for all things firearms related, which Highland Arms will sell. 


It’s a market that exists because of the region’s affection for outdoor activities, including hunting. There is also the convenience of it, which means people can shop locally for things like ammunition, targets and gun smithing, or get information on gun safety and gun laws. 


“I just want to help people get what they want and let the product sell itself,” Hamilton said. 


As the store nears its tentative opening date of mid-December, Hamilton and his family and friends are preparing the storefront located at 125 S. Main St., setting up displays and moving merchandise. 


While some people would feel nervous, Hamilton is confident, both in the business and his attempts to minimize the risk associated with opening a new business and in his ability to adapt should the firearms market endure any type of volatility. 


He’s also confident because he has taken his time, researched the customer base and brings an honest approach to firearm sales, which looks to get people what they need and want, without selling them superfluous items for the sake of higher sales. 


It’s an approach that focuses on the best interest of the customer, because treating the customer right keeps them coming back. It also sets a tone that promotes the community and the friendly Main Street vibe. 


When it comes to the opening, Hamilton reiterated his happiness and excitement about being in Elkader, being a member of the community and crafting a family legacy. To future customers, “don’t be bashful,” he said. “Come in and check it out.”

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