Gunslingers, businesses shoot it out at commissioner's meeting Tuesday

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VIRGINIA CITY -- The Storey County Commission meeting started with a bang Tuesday when some local businesses charged the Virginia City Gunslingers and Saloon Girls with snarling traffic, scaring tourists and wreaking havoc on C Street.

The actors' group performs in the city's primary tourist and business district.

Made up of about 20 actors from all walks of life, they provide hysterical -- not historical -- entertainment in addition to lessons in gun safety, said Marty Green, a member of the group.

Some of Virginia City's shopkeepers, however, are not amused.

"The biggest problem is how tourists are affected," said Sandie Buie, owner of Sweetwater John's gift shop. "When the guns start blazing, tourists drop to their knees and shield their families, thinking a drive-by shooting has occurred."

Open solicitation for tips also occurs on the boardwalk, she said.

"Startled tourists are dropping merchandise and the guns' (blank) ammunition loads are rattling the windows, but the main issue is tourist response," Buie said.

She was joined by nine other businesses on C Street's south end. She said the gunslingers enter businesses asking for tips, often stopping the flow of traffic, and she believes there are liability issues concerning broken merchandise and possible injuries.

"This situation with street performers is not unique. It's going on around the country," Buie said. "We're the largest historic district in the United States and, for us, there are a number of mandates, like the historic facades. Street performers have none. We want guidelines for them, too."

Gunslinger director Art Carlyle fired back, saying the group was asked to perform in front of many businesses because they drew tourist traffic. He addressed the small crowd at the commissioner's meeting complete with beard, black hat, vest and spurs.

"Sheriff Pat Whitten told me I have to keep traffic going, and at every show I do that," he said. "We sometimes slow normal traffic flow, but only in front of stores that request our presence, and we don't solicit.

"We buy pre-made Hollywood ammunition and I've asked Sheriff Whitten to monitor our sound levels," he said. "We can test them, find out which are acceptable and that is what we'll buy."

He said the group plays other venues, from Incline Village's Ponderosa Ranch to Graegle in California. Carlyle said they've performed in Virginia City nine times in 2002.

Commissioner Bob Kershaw said Virginia City is a small, congested retail area and more guidelines may be introduced in the coming months, but no action was taken Tuesday.

"Just like any other Old West tourist town, these performers can be an asset," Kershaw said. "But we have to get both sides to talk and agree. I'm hoping today the gunslingers are a little more mindful of where they're supposed to be."

The commission is expected to reconsider the issue in November.


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