hill country observerThe independent newspaper of eastern New York, southwestern Vermont and the Berkshires


News & Issues August 2016


Gun shows may vanish from Saratoga scene

Longtime promoter says City Center won’t let him book future dates


A crowd jams the Saratoga Springs City Center in 2013 for a gun show, one of three or four that have been staged annually at the center by New Eastcoast Arms Collectors Associates Inc. Thomas Dimopoulos file photoBy THOMAS DIMOPOULOS
Contributing writer



A crowd jams the Saratoga Springs City Center in 2013 for a gun show, one of three or four that have been staged annually at the center by New Eastcoast Arms Collectors Associates Inc. The show’s promoter says the center’s management now has no dates available for gun shows until at least 2018. Thomas Dimopoulos file photo

The Saratoga Springs City Center was just a few weeks old in the summer of 1984 when David Petronis staged its first-ever trade show.

Now, after organizing and promoting more than 100 gun shows at the local convention hall over the past 32 years, Petronis says he’s being shown the door: A gun show scheduled for the weekend of Aug. 20-21 apparently will be the last such event the City Center will host.
“They informed me that they don’t have any more dates available toward the end of 2016 or into 2017,” Petronis said. “That was a little bit of a shock.”

City Center Authority President Mark Baker didn’t respond to several requests in late July to discuss the issue or confirm whether the venue has a new policy regarding gun shows.
Petronis pointed out that the local Democratic Committee passed a resolution in June urging the city government to ban future gun shows in Saratoga Springs. But the City Center’s management officially is independent of city government, and the City Council never debated or acted on the Democrats’ resolution.

Petronis, who in recent years has staged three or four shows annually at the City Center, said his organization, New Eastcoast Arms Collectors Associates Inc., has put on more trade shows at the City Center over the years than other organization.

“This is like building a business over a lifetime, and then all of a sudden someone yanks that out from under you,” he said. “You can’t sell it; you can’t promote it. It’s dead. So basically I worked 32 years up there, and I have nothing to show for it.”

Petronis said he was informed the lack of available dates is the result of new City Center booking priorities that give precedence to conventions over trade shows.

“OK, that’s fine,” he said. “But what about other trade shows? Are they doing other trade shows that are different than my show? If that’s the case, I think that’s discrimination. I would like to see a schedule.”

As of late July, the City Center’s public calendar extended only as far as Petronis’ show on Aug. 20-21.

Target of activists
The presence of the gun show in Saratoga Springs has become the focus of controversy in the past few years as the incidence of mass shootings has increased around the country. But each time gun-control advocates have targeted the show, gun-rights supporters have come to its defense.

Each of Petronis’ weekend shows brought an average of 2,000 to 3,000 visitors to Saratoga Springs, in addition to many his own organization’s members, who number about 1,000.
Attendance reached 7,000, however, for a gun show in January 2013, about a month after a mass shooter killed 20 children and six educators at the Sandy Hook elementary school in Newtown, Conn. At the time, critics tried unsuccessfully to convince city officials to put a halt to Petronis’ show, and three groups staged demonstrations outside the show. Gun owners and dealers staged a counter-protest. More than 1,500 people signed a petition urging the city to stop the show, but the show’s defenders garnered even more signatures on their own petition calling for the show to continue.

Baker, the City Center president, defended the gun show at the time, saying the local show catered to hunters, sportsmen and marksmen.

“Gun violence is not something that anyone here is promoting,” he said then.
The show’s attendance also swelled in October 2013 when Gabrielle Giffords, the former Arizona congresswoman who was gravely wounded in a 2011 assassination attempt, showed up with her husband, the astronaut Mark Kelly, to express support for New York’s newly toughened system of background checks for people buying weapons at gun shows.

Now, local gun control advocates say they’re pleased that the show staged by Petronis’ group may have to go elsewhere after this month.

“We’re very excited to have this hiatus for at least two years, and we hope it’s permanent,” said Deirdre Ladd, a founding member of Saratogians for Gun Safety.

Ladd’s group, formed in the aftermath of the Newtown massacre, pushed for a 2013 resolution, passed by the City Council in a 3-2 vote, that calls for gun owners to secure long guns in cases when in downtown Saratoga Springs.

More recently, the group helped push for passage of a new city law requiring guns in private homes to be securely stored when not in the owner’s immediate possession or control. The measure, which the City Council passed unanimously in April, is known as Nicholas’ Law in honor of Nicholas Naumkin, a 12-year-old Saratoga Springs boy who was accidentally shot and killed by a friend in 2010.

Ladd said Saratogians for Gun Safety, which claims 35 members, is actively pushing for similar laws in Schenectady, Troy, Fort Edward and Glens Falls.


Insulated from politics?
The City Center is owned by the city of Saratoga Springs but is operated by the quasi-independent City Center Authority. The authority’s board has seven members who are confirmed by majority vote of the City Council.

Neither the City Council nor the board of the City Center Authority has exerted control over the type of events booked at the venue, however. That responsibility has fallen to Baker, the authority president, who reviews and approves contracts at the center.

Baker has maintained for several years that “gate shows,” like the gun show, should have second priority after conference and convention business. Last year, the City Center hosted 75 conference and conventions, 48 special events or banquets, and 31 gate or trade shows. All of these events combined had an attendance of 155,000 people.

In late June, members of the Saratoga Springs Democratic Committee passed a resolution asking the City Council to discuss prohibiting gun shows at the City Center. The council has yet to take up the issue, however, and appears divided about whether it wants to – or could -- exert any such authority over the City Center.

Mayor Joanne Yepsen did not respond to a request for comment for this report. But in an interview last month with the Times Union of Albany, the Democratic mayor said she thought “gun shows don’t fit in” with her vision for the city and that there are “better uses for our public buildings.”

But another Democrat on the City Council, Public Safety Commissioner Chris Mathiesen, said that if the center’s management wants to book gun shows at the venue, the city government shouldn’t interfere.

“I don’t have the problem with gun shows that some other people do,” Mathiesen said. “I do think the gun shows are a way for the City Center to pay their rent and maintain their fiscal status. I understand there are proposals that the City Council take some sort of action, a resolution against gun shows at the City Center. I would be opposed to that.”

Petronis, meanwhile, said he has begun seeking alternate venues in southern Saratoga County and the greater Capital Region to replace his Saratoga Springs shows. His organization generally stages a total of 10 to 15 shows per year at various venues around the region, and the Capital Region market is key.

“I’ve done shows at the Lake George Forum, and the size is bigger than Saratoga, but it’s an hour north or more of Albany,” Petronis said. “I can draw from the North Country, but I don’t seem to be drawing Albany people to Lake George, so I’m missing the Capital District area.”
He said he recently staged a show at Riley Rink in Manchester, Vt., and plans to return there in the future, although the venue isn’t available in the winter months.

“I used to do New Hampshire, Massachusetts, Vermont, Rhode Island,” Petronis said. “A lot of places have called over the years and asked me to do a show a far distance away, but I don’t really have the support group to do it. This is still a mom-and-pop operation.”

Petronis said he was approached a few years ago about the possibility of relocating his shows to Saratoga Casino & Raceway in conjunction with the proposed development of a convention center on the raceway property. Having previously staged shows at racetracks in Pownal, Vt., and in Monticello, Petronis said it would have been an easy fit.

But the new venue never materialized in Saratoga Springs, largely because of the opposition of other venue operators who didn’t want a competing facility built on the casino grounds.
Petronis said he would like to see his August show at the City Center be the largest ever. In a letter to his membership, he wrote:

“Our next show at the City Center is August 20 and 21. Will this be our last? Will the businesses which benefit from our thousands of attendees speak out? After Sandy Hook, about 7,000 of you showed up because we refused to give in and cancel. Can you be there again?”