People who sent firearms to the Ithaca Gun Co. for repair before the troubled manufacturer shut its doors last month are beginning to get them back, while an emerging group of firearms-related businesses are setting their sights on what's left of the historic firm.
Ithaca Gun closed in a tangle of financial difficulties, including owing thousands in excise taxes to the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms. Earlier this summer, the company voluntarily surrendered its ATF federal firearms license and moved its inventory - including hundreds of guns and pieces of guns it had taken for repair - to Tar-Jac in Seneca Falls.
"Ithaca Gun is trying to work it all out, abide by the law and get the guns back into the hands of their rightful owners," said ATF Special Agent Joe Green. "We are remaining in contact to insure that is happening."
Tar-Jac adds camouflage and other coatings to item surfaces. It has a federal firearms license and agreed to house Ithaca Gun's inventory. Tar-Jac's staff is working to return the firearms, matching up faxes, e-mails and other information from owners with the inventory.
The return process is complicated. Guns can't be sent back directly to their owners because of ATF regulations. Instead, they must be returned to an entity that has a federal firearms license.
"They need to provide a local licensed facility near their home so that the gun can be shipped to them," Katrinka Ryan, Ithaca Gun's chief financial officer, wrote in an e-mail to The Citizen. "This means we would need them to send a copy of that business' license to our facility."
Les Hovencamp owns Diamond Gunsmithing in Ithaca. A gunsmith with Ithaca Gun for 28 years before he left the company in 2002, he has been working with Tar-Jac to reunite people with their guns, and repair them if they still need it.
He suggested people trying to get their guns back contact Tar-Jac directly with pertinent information.
So far, he has received five guns from Tar-Jac.
One he will send to a gun shop in the area where the owner lives, and the other four he will repair. All of the owners, he said, were relieved to have their guns located.
"They were kind of angry they took a hit on their credit card from Ithaca Gun and their guns weren't fixed," he said. "But they're saying 'At least I'm getting it back.'"
Hovencamp is amenable to retrieving guns for people who want to pick them up from his shop. That process must follow ATF regulations as well. The guns must be logged in and can't be put in an owner's hands until a background check is done, just like a new purchase. Hovencamp charges $20 for the check, unless the owner wants him to do the gun repair.
"I really think they want to return the guns," he said. "There's no benefit to anyone for them to hold guns that so many people had such a good feeling about."
Meanwhile, Troy Reppert, who owns Blue Mountain Gun Works in Bethel, Pa., is one of a number of firearms interests who are trying to get information about buying Ithaca Gun and getting it up and running.
Reppert said he's not as interested in the trademark as he is in the blueprints and programs to create the patterns to manufacture the firearms.
"The older Ithaca guns were an especially good quality product," he said. "The company, run and marketed correctly, has the potential to take off, so long as you don't chew off too much at one time. In my life, I know how to make something out of nothing, but this would be something out of something."
Andy Sciarabba, the principal investor in Ithaca Gun, did not return a telephone call for this story.
Previously, he said he was looking for a buyer for the company, which owes several hundred thousand dollars to various creditors, including Cayuga County.
The company moved from King Ferry to Allen Street in Auburn in April, in anticipation of a sale to a Rhode Island investor. When that sale fell through around Memorial Day, Ithaca Gun closed its doors.
Several firms have contacted the Cayuga County Office of Planning and Economic Development, which has loaned Ithaca Gun about $150,000 for equipment. So far, Ithaca has missed several loan payments; Cayuga County planning and economic development director David Miller said the company would be given a chance to find a buyer before the county called in the loan.
Miller's said he is referring people to Sciarabba.
"We've heard from a ton of people, too, but we're not the ones to talk to," Miller said. "We might come into play somewhere. We're evaluating this on a day-to-day basis. It's hard to say. We're talking to the Ithaca people regularly. We don't want to pull the plug on them, because then we'll be out everything. We want them to move forward so we can recover our investment."
Reppert said he will contact Miller because he wants to make sure he has his foot in the door, should Ithaca Gun default. The county holds, as loan collateral, not only equipment but also the Ithaca Gun trademark.
The company was founded in 1880 in Ithaca and became world-renowned for manufacturing high-quality, affordable guns such as the Deerslayer and Deerslayer II.
He said he would buy the company, possibly leaving it in Auburn, so long as he didn't have to "buy the debt."
"It may not be worthwhile," he said. Reppert learned Ithaca Gun had closed when he didn't get a Model 37 shotgun part he paid for, checked the company's Web site and found it was gone.
"If you could purchase the assets without purchasing the company itself, I don't even know why anyone would want the trademark," he said. "I don't see it as anything but a detriment. You see the name Ithaca and you say 'Oh, they go out of business every three years.'"
Ithaca Gun has had problems since the 1980s, when it faced environmental and financial issues in Ithaca.
The state eventually paid $4 million to clean up the site and the company, under a new owner, moved to a converted school in King Ferry. It went bankrupt and Sciarabba's group bought it in 1995.
This is the company's third failure; although it is not in bankruptcy yet, Sciarabba said there is no money left.
Another potential buyer - at least for part of the business - is Rich Knoster, a representative of Hastings Ammunition in Kansas. The company, owned by Robert Rott, makes gun barrels, and Knoster is interested in that aspect of Ithaca Gun's manufacturing.
Knoster, 58, remembers being 12 years old and getting an Ithaca Deerslayer.
"I thought the world of it," he said. "We really feel it's a shame, what's happened to the company."
He said Ithaca Gun has suffered from chronic mismanagement.
"We wondered how many toes they had left because they've been shooting themselves in the foot for years," Knoster said.
He said the company stepped away from what it did the best, and suffered the consequences.
"They made a 50-caliber rifle that sat on a tripod, as if that was going to be big seller. Then they made a whole new group of .45 automatics that had nothing to do with shotguns. They finally ended up making a pump shotgun. But what do I know? I didn't have their money."
He said Hastings is looking at acquiring the Ithaca trademark Deerslayer name.
"We have a high regard for it," he said. "The company is in Kansas, but I'm in Pennsylvania and that's not so far to oversee what's going on."
He knows a few people who worked for Ithaca Gun at one time whom he would like to recruit back to the company.
Inquires about purchasing the company are even coming in from Canada.
"As a hunter who is also interested in history, I can hardly imagine the gun manufacturing industry without Ithaca Gun being part of it," said Luc Lapierre, product manager for Labrie, a company in Quebec.
"I would be interested in knowing if Ithaca Gun found another potential buyer as of today and if there is still a project of relaunching the business in the air."
To reach Ithaca Gun, send an e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org or send a fax to 253-4515. It takes several rings for the fax machine to connect. The mailing address is 21 Allen St., Auburn, NY 13021 and mark attention to the shipping department if sending a copy of a federal firearms facility license to have a gun shipped there.
To reach Tar-Jac, which has Ithaca Gun's inventory of guns and gun parts that were sent for repair, call 539-8524. Federal Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms regulations dictate that guns may not be picked up directly from that company. They must be shipped to a gun dealer with a federal firearms license who can then complete the process of returning them to their owners.
The state Attorney General's Office in Syracuse is also involved in the Ithaca Gun matter. To reach that office, call 448-4800.
To reach Les Hovencamp, an Ithaca gunsmith who is working with Tar-Jac to return or repair firearms, call (607) 273-4510.
Staff writer Louise Hoffman Broach can be reached at 253-5311 ext. 238 or email@example.com