Kevin Riordan: A gun shop in Merchantville raises questions

DyAnne DiSalvo says the RayCo Armory is not a suitable neighbor. Her stance has provoked some opposition in Merchantville.
DyAnne DiSalvo says the RayCo Armory is not a suitable neighbor. Her stance has provoked some opposition in Merchantville. (AKIRA SUWA / Staff Photographer)
Posted: February 07, 2012

DyAnne DiSalvo, who writes and illustrates books for children, is sometimes inspired by real life.

So her next novel may involve a gun shop like the one that opened near her Merchantville home last year and made her heart sink.

Firearms pervade our culture; they make some people feel secure and others afraid. Many people have no interest in owning (much less firing) one. And we'd rather not live near a commercial establishment that supplies folks who do.

"I was completely startled when I saw a sign saying 'firearms and ammunition,' " says DiSalvo, who has lived in the borough for 10 years and is the mother of two grown children. "I thought, 'Why is there a gun store here?' "

A quaint Camden County borough of about 3,800, Merchantville is best known for Victorian architecture and, lately, a move to merge with adjacent Cherry Hill. But unlike the notion of Merchantville becoming one with its far larger neighbor, the RayCo Armory sparked no opposition.

Until recently.

A letter by DiSalvo published last month in the Merchantville Observer, urging citizens to sign a petition to prevent any additional gun shops, drew an e-mail that accused her of wanting to subvert the Second Amendment to the Constitution.

RayCo is "a WELCOME addition to the area," the e-mail read in part, continuing, "people have rights, GOD given rights, to Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness."

The store opened 13 months ago on Centre Street and Cuthbert Road in a cluster of commercial buildings surrounded by dense residential streets.

Law enforcement professionals and hunters make up much of the clientele at RayCo, which is owned by two affable brothers named Ray and Gary Veitenheimer. They grew up nearby and say they're an asset, not a liability, to the community.

"We've actually lowered crime," says Ray, 29, who lives in Merchantville.

"There's no riffraff around here," adds Gary, 33, of Riverside.

Says Borough Council President Edward Brennan, who oversees Merchantville's public-safety departments: "Everyone has a concern about guns, but I don't have a great concern about the store itself. There hasn't been a problem. And I haven't had people come up to me and say, 'What's this store doing in town?' "

I hadn't noticed RayCo either, until DiSalvo pointed it out on a recent blustery morning. Like a half dozen nearby businesses, it's partly obscured by a huge fried-chicken establishment.

"Here's the 'Welcome to Merchantville' sign, there's the elementary school, there's the fried chicken, and there's the gun shop," says DiSalvo, who grew up in Brooklyn. "Welcome to Merchantville!"

When I stop back later on, the Veitenheimer brothers have a six-deep line of customers and are too busy to chat. I return another day, and we talk while country music twangs and workers fabricate new displays; business, it seems, is brisk.

Gary and Ray know the law and insist they follow it to the letter.

"There's no criminals in here," Ray says. "And if you're not 18 and you're not with an adult, and you come in here, you will be asked to leave."

"This lady [DiSalvo] thinks we're selling guns to anyone who walks in," Gary says.

"She thinks a child can come in here and get hold of a gun," Ray adds. "You can't even touch a gun in here, including a pellet gun." (Which happens to be the only firearm I've ever used. I was 12.)

DiSalvo acknowledges that RayCo is a lawful enterprise, one that neither she nor anyone else in town formally objected to when zoning and signage applications came before various borough boards.

"Business is business, but they need to be regulated into certain areas - business areas," she says. "This is a residential area.

"Merchantville . . . needs to wake up. We need to change the zoning laws."

Says lifelong resident Melinda Gaffney, 69, "the question is, is a gun shop a good idea?

"And what kind of town do you want your town to appear to be?"

That sounds like a civic conversation worth having in Merchantville - and elsewhere.


Contact staff writer Kevin Riordan at 856-779-3845, kriordan@phillynews.com, or @inqkriordan on Twitter. Read the metro columnists' blog, "Blinq," at http://www.philly.com/blinq

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