STANLY MAGAZINE: Albemarle throwing range has been hitting the mark

Stanly native Michael Smith is an avid axe-thrower with about a decade of experience. He has thrown competitively all across the country, especially at venues utilizing tomahawks, his preferred weapon.

While axe-throwing has been a national trend over the years, the closest locations for people in Stanly County had been in Charlotte. But that changed when Albemarle resident Garrett Starnes opened a location in downtown Albemarle in September 2021. And it wasn’t just any range, it was one that exclusively utilizes tomahawks.

Smith, who now resides in China Grove, quickly fell in love with The Tomahawk Throwing Range & Blade Shop at 130 S. Second St., Albemarle. He tries to go every weekend and even won the first tournament the throwing range hosted.

George Wilson gets ready for a toss as Hailey Holbrooks looks on with anticipation at The Tomahawk Throwing Range and Blade Shop, located at 130 S. 2nd St. in Albemarle. (Photo by SETH MABRY)

“I love the environment,” Smith said. “There’s not a lot of places around here that offer tomahawks. Most of them are hatchet-throwing places.”

Like Smith, Starnes also grew up with a love for “throwing sharp pointy objects” — everything from kitchen knives to saw blades to roofing hatchets. About nine years ago, he and his brother Mitchell discovered a new throwing tool: tomahawks.

“We just determined that that was the ultimate throwing weapon,” said Starnes.

Over the years, Starnes introduced tomahawk throwing to several of his friends, who all enjoyed it. This got him thinking about the realistic possibility of translating his passion into an actual business.

Though nervous about introducing the area to such a niche sport, Starnes has been blown away by the support he’s received.

“Everything has exceeded my expectations,” he said, noting that each month seems to be better than the last.

Thinking he would take a loss during his first year of operation, so far the opposite has occurred. There’s been enough interest with his business that he’s been able to make a profit.

“I always believed, with the nature of what this is, that if I could get the word out, that people would enjoy it,” Starnes said. “I always felt like Albemarle needed something for people to do, other than outdoor things.”

Garrett Starnes throws one of his tomahawks. (Photo by CHRIS MILLER/staff)

On a busy Friday or Saturday night, he estimates as many as 100 people often make their way to his venue, which operates 10 single throwing lanes, divided by chain-link fencing for security. To entice more people to show up during the weeknights, Starnes has designated Wednesday as Ladies Night, where they can throw for an hour at the half-hour rate and Thursdays are League nights, where people can come and prepare for upcoming tournaments.

Smith has particularly enjoyed seeing newcomers learn about the sport and toss their first tomahawks.

“It’s nice to see people coming in for the first time and then getting addicted to it,” he said.

Image 9- Garrett Starnes, left, owner of The Tomahawk Throwing Range and Blade Shop, helps Jamerit Sturdivant, of Albemarle, learn the proper form and safety to throwing the tomahawk. (Photo by SETH MABRY)

Joy Almond, Main Street manager and director of the Albemarle Downtown Development Corporation, explored the range for the first time this spring, noting she was surprised by how much energy she used during her hour-long throwing session.

“It’s a great space,” she said. “Garrett is a very enthusiastic business owner and that’s the kind of business owner that’s great to have in a downtown setting.

“The way everything came together to help bring his idea to fruition has just been very rewarding to see,” she added.

Due to the fact that people are throwing a dangerous weapon, safety is paramount. People have to fill out liability waivers and listen to a brief safety talk before being given one-on-one instructions regarding how to properly throw the tomahawks.

Many of the rules seem obvious — never walk in front of someone throwing, don’t try to catch a falling axe, always be aware of your surroundings — but when dealing with a situation where an accident could result in serious injury, “they need to be verbalized,” Starnes said.

Whenever customers hit the bullseye, which happens quite frequently, Starnes takes their picture and puts the photo on the wall for all to see. Several hundred people, including Smith, have already achieved the milestone.

“That keeps people going. People love that,” Starnes said. “You can miss for the whole hour and get that one Hail Mary and you’re good to go, you’re on the Wall of Fame.”

Garrett Starnes opened The Tomahawk Throwing Range and Blade Shop, located at 130 S. 2nd St. in Albemarle. (Photo by SETH MABRY)

The success of the throwing range has attracted people from beyond just Stanly County. Customers have come from across the region, including Salisbury, Concord and Mint Hill.

“People come from a long way around to come here,” he said.

Tomahawk is one of several new businesses catering to a younger clientele and injecting lifeblood into what was once thought of as a sleepy downtown. As of this writing, another axe-throwing venue, Armadillo Axe Throwing, is planning to open in downtown in the near future.

“Until Tomahawk opened, I hadn’t been in that area for some time, probably two or three years,” Smith said. “But I was blown away by how many more businesses are moving in and how much it’s grown.”

Anyone 12 and up is allowed to throw, but all children under the age of 18 must be accompanied and monitored by an adult. One-hour sessions cost $25.

The business is open 4 p.m. to 10 p.m. Wednesday, Thursday and Sunday, 4 p.m. to 11 p.m. Friday and 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. Saturday. Walk-ins are accepted, but reservations are preferred.