Published December 19. 2012 4:00AM
Norwich - Thayer's Marine & RV received unanimous approval Tuesday to expand the existing fishing and boating equipment retail store to include hunting and camping, possibly including the sale of hunting rifles.
The commission had to approve the expansion because hunting and camping are not water-dependent uses in the harbor zoning district, but commission members considered the move simply an expansion of retail in the existing building on West Main Street across from the Marina at American Wharf.
But during the brief public hearing, resident Joanne Philbrick said she would not have been in favor of the plan even before last Friday's mass shooting at the Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown. Philbrick said Norwich should not be adding a gun shop to downtown at this time.
"Why would you want to consider granting a permit?" Philbrick said. "Do you want people from outside coming to Norwich to purchase firearms?"
After the approval, applicant Richard Thayer III said the family hasn't made a decision whether to sell hunting firearms but needed the city permit before working on plans to expand the business that has been a mainstay in the harbor area for three generations.
Thayer said the plans have been in the works for months, and he felt "horrible" that the timing of the public hearing and commission vote came just days after the Newtown school shooting.
Last week, retail manager Zachary Tarner said adding hunting and camping sales would boost business during the slow winter months. Store owners plan to renovate the historic four-story brick building to add retail to the second floor, now used only for storage. That would require adding an elevator and other renovations.