We all grew up with some form of fun toys that were modeled off of the idea of play fighting with our siblings or friends. Squirt guns, cap guns, nerf guns, laser tag, these all provide kids and adults a safe and fun way to play. Eventually, many people moved into the realm of paintball and now, airsoft.
Paintball was invented in 1981 when Charles Gaines, a Wall Street stock trader, writer and avid outdoorsman, pondered if a city dweller could survive in the woods against a man who spent his youth hunting, fishing and building cabins. That led to the creation of the modern-day sport of paintball. You’re reading this thinking, ‘Cool, but why are you talking about paintball in a story about airsoft?’
It’s simple, paintball became a popular sport in the US well before airsoft made its way here, and yet, airsoft is older. Airsoft guns were invented in the 1970’s in Japan because they wanted to own some kind of weapon or firearm and they decided a 6 or 8mm plastic pellet would suffice.
Airsoft began with very mechanical roots because the common electronics were not available in the 70’s. That meant a spring needed to be compressed to launch a pellet with the compression was released. Early on, there was no need for any kind of protection from the pellets as they were travelling too slow to really hurt. That all changed when Airsoft made its way to the UK in the 80’s. A company named LS began to make more efficient parts and use Carbon Dioxide (CO2) gas as a propellent for the pellets. By the 90’s, LS was a leader in making replicas of real-world firearms for airsoft guns.
In the early 90’s a manufacturer in Tokyo created electronics to work with the gas firing pellets to make the guns fire faster but still remain safe. The 90’s were revolutionary for airsoft guns. The 21st century brought about some additional changes, primarily using compressed air instead of CO2. The advantage of CO2 versus compressed air is CO2 compresses more efficiently, allowing for smaller cartridges with longer lasting use, but compressed air can now be refilled easily. It is significantly less expensive and better for the environment.
Hastings and the surrounding communities have never been able to purchase quality airsoft products locally with the exception of some basic toy pieces at big box stores like Walmart. This is where Airsoft Armory steps in.
“We have people from all over the country ordering from us already, and a guy drove three and a half hours to come visit us during the grand opening week,” said co-owner Jon Becker. “We offer both in store purchases and online orders.”
Jon owns Airsoft Armory along with his wife Aricka and this is not their first foray into owning their own business. They also own Becker Photography here in Hastings as well.
“I was not a big fan of guns,” explained Aricka, “I never really liked them at all. Eventually, I was convinced to go try airsoft. We stopped at Dick’s Sporting goods to look at what they had for my 11-year-old and a couple $1,000 later, they all had airsoft guns. We went to a field to try them out and my daughter was not going to go unless I went, so I gave in and went with her. I rented a gun that day and I went out on the field, and we were playing, and we had the time of our lives. It was like I was back being a little kid playing GI Joe. I never thought I'd play with guns, I like girl things, I like country music. I'm not like a big gun person, but we had so much fun.”
They had so much fun that the next day, the two of them went on an airsoft date without the kids and from there the love of the sport blossomed for them both. They were welcomed by a very friendly and inviting community and relationships with participants and vendors grew.
“One of the things that the airsoft community does is they really live off of honor and integrity. They have basically adopted the boy scout motto. It is a great community to be part of,” added Aricka. “Everybody’s pretty honest.”
“If not, there’s ways we handle that,” quipped Jon, drawing ‘the look’ from Aricka.
Joking aside, the community aspect was a big draw for Aricka and led to the idea of opening their store. Aricka’s father and brother were active with airsoft and her father passed away last year. Aricka and her father had always talked about opening a business together and with his passing, she felt a great way to utilize some of her inheritance would be to open a store he would be proud of and would give them the opportunity to grow with. This store does that, largely because there is not a store in the region like Airsoft Armory.
They carry a variety of airsoft pistols, rifles and shotguns and a plethora of parts to customize and upgrade those guns. They stock mechanical, CO2 and compressed air options, parts that come in a variety of colors and price ranges.
“Aricka wants to see more girls get involved in sport, and I do too,” said Jon.
“That is why we have all the pink stuff like that girl over there,” Aricka added as she pointed to a mannequin. “We have made pink guns, we have pink guns, if you go into any of the airsoft stores, it’s all boys stuff. You don’t see anything for girls.”
“It’s all about customer service, making people feel like family,” added Jon.
They want everyone to feel welcome coming into their store, so they do what they need to for their customers from beginners to experts.
Their ready-to-use products range in price from around $200 for the most basic model rifle to well over $1,000 for the more serious user. They offer repair and upgrade services, plus they can refill compressed air tanks for both airsoft and paintball. They have a variety of upgrades available for purchase in-store as well as protective gear. For items they do not stock, they have an extensive network to get additional items and they have a huge selection on their website which can ship directly to the buyer.
The store is open Mon, Thu, Fri, Sat from 10-7 and Sun 10-4. The store is closed on Tuesday and Wednesday. They are located at 1318 Vermillion Street and online at www.airsoftarmory.com.
-By Bruce Karnick, Hastings Journal