Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, Mike Frisk, owner of Gunrunners firearm shop in Cloquet, experienced the highest sales volume he’s seen since opening the store in 2011, despite gun and ammunition shortages.
“It hasn’t really affected me, other than create a lot more business,” Frisk said.
Frisk runs the shop out of his house, seeing clients by appointment only due to a city ordinance passed prior to the start of the pandemic.
According to Frisk, the only alteration made to his business model as a result of COVID-19 is the requirement that masks be worn inside the shop.
Gun retailers were considered essential businesses during the initial shutdown of stores in Minnesota, so Frisk was never forced to close the shop.
But not all outdoors-focused businesses have boomed. Stephanie Lafleur, chief operating officer and owner of Minnesota Whitewater Rafting, did not share Frisk’s experience.
Minnesota Whitewater Rafting is based out of Scanlon and typically operates throughout the summer, offering whitewater rafting experiences on the St. Louis River.
When the COVID-19 pandemic hit, Lafleur made the decision not to open for the 2020 season.
According to Lafleur, the size of the rafts does not provide adequate space for physical distancing, and masks cannot be worn due to the nature of the activities.
Minnesota Whitewater Rafting is family-owned and operated, and Lafleur said she did not feel comfortable compromising the safety of her family, or that of the public.
“There was such a limbo of knowing right from wrong,” Lafleur said and added that she feels she made the right decision by temporarily closing, even though it was difficult.
Minnesota Whitewater Rafting is typically a six-figure business, according to Lafleur. The business offered online gift card sales, but Lafleur said she did not see nearly the same income as past years.
While Lafleur’s customers stayed away for the sake of safety, Frisk’s did the opposite.
Frisk believes he experienced a rise in gun sales in 2020 because people were afraid. He said he saw a dramatic increase in the number of women and first-time buyers patronizing his business.
“They keep selling and selling,” Frisk said of the firearms in his shop.
Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, the U.S. has seen a national shortage of guns and ammunition. Frisk’s local shop was no exception.
“There isn’t really much you can do,” Frisk said. “I just hope I can get some ammo in.”
Due to the shortages, Frisk has halted off-street sales of ammunition so he has enough to provide gun buyers with two boxes when they purchase a firearm.
According to Frisk, the shortages have led to some price gouging and inflation by other sellers.
“It’s been a crazy year,” Frisk said. “I just don’t see it changing any time soon.”
Neither Frisk or Lafleur depend solely on the sales of their Cloquet area businesses for their income.
Frisk works as a machine operator at USG in Cloquet, while Lafleur owns and operates Caddy Shack Indoor Golf & Pub in Duluth.
Lafleur hopes to reopen Minnesota Whitewater Rafting for the 2021 season. She said the biggest challenges the business will face are rebuilding and recruiting new staff.
Before closing, Minnesota Whitewater Rafting employed 45 people, some of whom have found new employment.
Frisk does not currently employ anyone at Gunrunners, and while he's not looking to expand, he said he doesn't anticipate business slowing down any time soon.