At this Alaska gun and ammo shop, recession brings good business

When Cody Brons moved up to Alaska from Oregon about four years ago, he wasn't exactly planning on making a life for himself by selling bullets out of a trailer on the side of the road.

He arrived in Anchorage and landed a job in hotel management. To make some extra money, he scooped up $2,000 worth of ammunition containers — steel boxes the military uses to hold ammo — that Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson was auctioning off on a government liquidation website, figuring he could resell them at a higher price.

Brons set up shop in parking lots around town — such as at the Safeway in the Jewel Lake area — and then decided to rent a small trailer and drive up to Fairbanks to see if many takers were there. Though the ammo cans themselves didn't sell very well, he stumbled into another opportunity.

"Everybody was asking if I had ammo," he said. "I thought there was a good market for this."

He was right. Brons shifted to selling ammunition, towing a trailer behind a pickup that read "Interior Alaska Ammo Delivery" on the side. He stopped regularly in Fairbanks, Delta Junction, Healy, Valdez, Anchorage and the Kenai Peninsula, often keeping hours from 8 a.m. to 10 p.m.

The business started months after the shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut, left 20 children and six adults dead, at a time when people were "panic-buying" ammo, Brons said.

"It was crazy," he said. "I would get flagged and stopped everywhere I went, get stopped going down the highway."

Jason Chudy, a spokesman for the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, said the agency generally doesn't regulate small arms ammunition.

The ammo business was popular enough that Brons decided to open a brick-and-mortar store in Anchorage in January 2015. Later that same year, he opened an even larger Fairbanks location, and his third and biggest Alaska Ammo store opened its doors in Soldotna last weekend. A lot of the company's business is composed of orders to the Alaska Bush, Brons said, and he's partnered with Everts Air Cargo to deliver to remote locations around the state.

At the shop in Anchorage's Mountain View neighborhood, hundreds of cases of bullets line the walls, with name brands like American Eagle, Buffalo Bore, Remington and Fiocchi. Handguns sit in a glass case at the front counter, a row of rifles and shotguns hanging on the wall behind them.

One shopper on a recent weekday morning came in looking for a gun to carry across his chest while hiking and biking, to accompany his bear spray. It was an effort to be even more prepared in the wake of recent news about two bear deaths just a day apart in Alaska, as well as a cluster of other run-ins.

"All of our bear ammo has sold out," said Carl Baldwin, an employee at the Anchorage location. "When the stories start popping up, people start coming in."

But bears are hardly the only reason business is going well. Brons hears from people who are looking for firearms and ammo because of concerns about crime. Alaska's recession is another factor.

"One thing in a recession is, people tend to get scared, and when they tend to get scared, they tend to buy guns and ammunition," Brons said. One reason is that the items "tend to hold their value."

Before last year's presidential election, sales soared, Brons said, over fears that Hillary Clinton taking office would make it harder to get hold of firearms.

The day after President Donald Trump won, the stores gave away free cans of Tannerite — a type of explosive target — in celebration, and called them "freedom jars." That's also when Brons started selling "Make America Great Again" packages of discounted firearms and ammo.

He tries to steer clear of talking politics with customers, but it inevitably comes up.

"We were very happy Trump got elected," he said. "I'm very grateful for the political climate we have now."

On top of business that has propelled Alaska Ammo into a third location, Brons said he's also noticed more people interested in getting their concealed carry permits.

In Alaska, people don't need a special permit to carry a concealed firearm, but getting the permit here carries over to many other states. Laura Berkowitz is an instructor of a concealed handgun permit class in Fairbanks and said there's a large demand for the course.

"People are just concerned. They're concerned about crime, they're concerned about basically their personal safety," she said. "I wouldn't say there's anything out of the ordinary going on here, but every so often there's a home invasion or a crime in a parking lot of a big box store."

While it's only since 2015 that Brons has grown his business to brick-and-mortar shops, he's been keenly interested in guns and gun culture for a long time. As a teenager in Oregon, he made a small fortune — roughly $130,000, he said — buying and then reselling AR-15 magazines on the internet. His grandma drove him to the post office to ship his goods to customers, he said, because he wasn't yet old enough to have a driver's license.

His shops expanded into firearms about a year ago, which brought in a new market in addition to customers who were just looking for ammo.

"We tried to model the original store off a Costco buy-in-bulk kind of thing," he said, "and that has worked really well."

Annie Zak

Annie Zak was a business reporter for the ADN between 2015 and 2019.