ROCHELLE — Matt Gerard said for years that he’d never open a gun shop.
Gerard, who also works as a Rochelle Police Department officer, has offered a variety of firearm training courses through his business, Down Range, LLC for years and has been a member of the Rochelle Chamber of Commerce. On Wednesday, he did what he said he’d never do and opened a retail Down Range, LLC gun shop at 303 Cherry Ave. and held a ribbon cutting ceremony with the chamber.
"This has been a weird, bizarre labor of love for me and those who have been involved with Down Range over the past couple of years,” Gerard said. “What you're going to see here will be different from other gun shops. Everything I'll be doing here will be based around good education and smart gun ownership and responsibility. Everything here is about continuing education. It's more about the training side. And community involvement."
Chamber Executive Director Tricia Herrera, chamber members, City of Rochelle Mayor John Bearrows, city employees and Gerard’s RPD coworkers were on-hand Wednesday to welcome Gerard’s business to town.
"Ever since Matt came on as a chamber member, he's talked about this expansion and how excited he was and he was getting it ready to go,” Herrera said. “Finally, he called me one day and said he did it. We're very excited for you and we're thankful you chose Rochelle to do your expansion. Welcome."
Bearrows welcomed Gerard on behalf of the city and said it means a lot to him that he decided to open his business in town.
“We're just thankful you're a part of our community,” Bearrows said. “The part that's really unique is, you not only have a business here, but you work here and decided to have your business in this town. In your normal day-to-day job, you see what's going on in this town. You saw a niche, and I think it's amazing that you're doing this.”
Gerard teaches his training courses in Rockford. He started with concealed carry training and worked his way up handgun and rifle training and more. He hopes having the storefront will continue to promote firearm safety.
“Ultimately, the shop isn't necessarily about retail sales,” Gerard said. “It's about good training, information and safe, responsible gun handling. Everything we're going to offer is going to be geared towards responsible gun ownership and spreading the word that you can be a responsible and mature gun owner and you're going to get good information from us as a resource.”
The Down Range, LLC owner said before this week, the nearest gun shop was in Forreston or Sycamore. He said it will be a focal point of things like shooting sports and concealed carry and self-defense training.
Everything about gun ownership requires a high level of maturity and skill, Gerard said.
“Anybody can go out and play tennis and play tennis badly,” Gerard said. “You can't be a firearm owner badly. When I started getting into teaching, I saw there was a lack of good instruction and information, including with shops. You'll see better quality equipment here. Guys that are my instructors will be working here and they're educated and know why certain guns are quality and certain guns are not. Everything we do is about hard facts and practical, real world application."
Gerard called Wednesday an “awesome day” and said he’s enjoyed seeing the support from the community, even before the ribbon cutting.
“I was leery, because sometimes towns get nervous about firearms and gun shops and stuff like that,” Gerard said. “Since I brought the question up to the city, it has been nothing but glowing support from everybody. It's absolutely been incredible. I plan on continuing to pay that back.”