There’s a thick wooden door with stone framing inside Olympia’s T Brothers Liquor Lodge. If you weren’t paying attention, you likely wouldn’t even notice it. Many who breeze through to restock on spirits assume it’s an office for management. But the Narnia-like entrance transfers visitors from the light-filled liquor store into Glacier Gun Club with the swipe of a members-only keycard.
Upon entering, the dull sound of gunshots are finally audible.
Opening a shooting range inside a liquor store? On its face it may seem to some like a harebrained idea. But it makes perfect business sense to the owners, brothers Mike and Andy Thielen, and they developed a strict model that is working.
“The public ranges that we’d visited before we started our range, there’s no background check; you don’t know the person next to you. They could be a wanted criminal or have no experience,” Andy said.
Members of Glacier Gun Club undergo a background check and pay a monthly fee to use it. Safety classes are provided for beginners twice a week with two hours of ground training and one hour in the range. Anyone who’s consumed alcohol within eight hours isn’t allowed inside. So far, there haven’t been any problems.
It all started when the brothers were presented with the opportunity to buy the historic Washington State Liquor Store in Olympia.
When the 2011 initiative to make spirits available in grocery stores statewide passed, Washington auctioned off its 167 liquor stores and the Thielens scored the winning bid for the roughly 7,000-square-foot space in 2012. They rebranded it as T Brother’s Liquor Lodge and renovated it with new flooring, wood shelving, and locally-inspired murals.
When they first bought the space, Mike said they were mulling over ideas for the massive warehouse portion of the building that was previously used for product backstock.
“Every square foot was a dollar sign to us, and it was going to waste,” Mike said. “We were talking about doing a pizza take-out restaurant, and then Andy said, ‘What about an indoor shooting range?’”
The Thielen brothers are born entrepreneurs. Mike started a helicopter touring company in 1995 and currently operates Glacier Aviation, a helicopter and airplane flight school with locations in Tumwater and Skagit Valley. Andy had a handful of amateur businesses as a kid and has spent his career working in retail. For the last 20 years he’s been a sales representative for Oroweat.
After running the liquor store for three years, Mike and Andy decided it was high time to put something in the nearly 3,000 square feet of space that was empty. Mike had always wanted to open an indoor gun range, but logistically it hadn’t made sense — until now.
The club is outfitted with oversized luxe couches in the lounge area, and a six-lane indoor shooting range is accessible from behind the club’s front counter. The hallway leading from the lounge to the education training room and private cigar lounge is lined with individual lockers for 300 VIP members of its roughly 1,000 members — 250 of which are women, and a women’s league was established in February. Wood-carved, glossy helicopter models hearken to Mike’s Glacier Aviation, and a blown-up photograph of downtown Olympia from around 1907 pays tribute to the city’s history.
“I designed it to where, if I had to wait, I’d be really comfortable,” Mike said. “I don’t care if you’re 21 years old or if you’re 80 years old; if you’re a man or a woman; or if you’re white collar or blue collar — everyone feels comfortable.”
The renovation was a $750,000 undertaking, and $250,000 of it is a state-of-the-art HVAC system, so members are always breathing fresh air. Six vents are pushing air away from shooters’ faces and seven vents are pulling in fresh air.
“Most shooting ranges built before 1985 are being shut down because they don’t have a state-of-the-art advanced (HVAC) system,” said Mike. “A shooting range system out of Las Vegas designed this to make it safe. If you’re going to be shooting indoors, (airflow and debris) has to be moving down range.”
The 40-foot, rifle-rated range has a bullet caption system at the end that decelerates a bullet when it enters and drops into a bucket so it can be reused. Most indoor ranges have a rubber berm that the bullets fire into, but every few months the range has to be shut down and the bullets pulled out.
Members can rent any of the club’s roughly 50 guns. The range opened in December 2015, and started with about 50 members — friends and family of the Thielens, who told them to spread the word. Knowledge of the club has been fairly grassroots until the media started talking about it.
For those who have discovered it, Glacier Gun Club is a beloved gem.
There are several members who come every day to unwind, said Mike. Like the women who work nearby and stop in on their lunch breaks to fire off a few rounds.
“People come in here and they have a tough day, and they walk out smiling,” he said. “It’s what we call recoil therapy. Shooting makes people happy. It’s a stress relief for them.”
If you’re curious about this one-of-a-kind locale, you can take a virtual tour of the club at glaciergunclub.com.