Fayette County

Kenny Woods gun show's Thanksgiving weekend edition draws thousands of enthusiasts

Debra and Bill Day discuss a gun for sale at the Kenny Woods Gun and Knife Show at Lexington Convention Center in Lexington, Ky., Saturday, November 29, 2014. Photo by Matt Goins
Debra and Bill Day discuss a gun for sale at the Kenny Woods Gun and Knife Show at Lexington Convention Center in Lexington, Ky., Saturday, November 29, 2014. Photo by Matt Goins Herald-Leader

There he stands, a mountain of a man with salt-and-pepper hair. It is the Kenny Woods, whom people in Central Kentucky know from the widely played commercial that includes the country-twang refrain: "It's the Kenny Woods Gun and Knife Show."

The show comes to Lexington Convention Center five times a year, drawing nearly 14,000 people annually. Organizer Rex Kehrli of RK Shows Inc. bought out Kenny Woods about eight years ago.

In addition to owning and operating the show, Woods had a gun store in Hazard, in Perry County, and was also the preacher at Fairview Baptist Church in Clay County, a church founded by his father.

Juggling those three demanding roles led Woods to sell the gun show business he started in 1993.

"I just needed to let go of some stuff," he said. Although run by a new company, the show still bears his name, and Kenny Woods is accustomed to some measure of notoriety because of it.

"Everybody knows me" in the gun show world, he said. "I can't run from my name."

Not that he would want to. Woods, who still attends the shows as a vendor, said he likes to meld his preacher job with his sales ventures. He said that starts with the way he talks with his customers. He doesn't want to do anything on the show floor that might come back at him in the pulpit.

"I try to do things in a way that brings glory to the Lord," he said with a smile, adding, "be sure to quote me on that."

Around Kentucky, Kehrli said, there are probably 40 gun shows a year. Kehrli, who is based in Iowa, said he holds shows across the country, but people in Central and Eastern Kentucky have a special passion for gun and knife shows.

Thanksgiving weekend always draws the biggest crowds at Lexington Convention Center, he said.

He jokes that people come to shop because they've spent too much time over the long holiday weekend at home with their families. But, he adds more seriously, there is a lot of Christmas shopping going on.

There are three kinds of gun show attendees, Kehrli said: hunters, collectors and target shooters.

The draw of gun shows, he said, is the great variety of weapons available under one roof. Kehrli estimated that there were 5,000 to 10,000 individual guns on sale this weekend. Because of low overhead, he said, people can generally get good prices.

Although Woods said sales aren't as brisk as they once were, there were still lots of people walking through the halls and parking lots of the complex with newly purchased firearms in hand.

In addition to all manner of rifles, the wares for sale included handguns ranging from a 3.5-inch derringer designed for the pocket or pocketbook, which runs a couple hundred dollars, to a Bernelli pistol displayed in a red-velvet-lined wooden box with a sign saying it would sell for $49,000. (The price was a joke, said the vendor, that no one had yet called him on; he said the real price was more like $2,000.)

In addition to guns and all manner of knives, there was ammunition and accessories, such as scopes. There were vintage uniforms and helmets from wars past. And, Kehrli said, as always there were some Civil War-era weapons.

Kehrli said he's noticed that the crowd has been changing in the last few years, with more millennials and more single women.

He said he's not sure why that is, exactly.

While there is some wheeling and dealing over prices at gun shows, Kehrli said that he is rarely called in to settle disputes.

George Hodge, owner of Gun Depot in Princeton, Ky., had a large U-shaped sales table not far from the entrance to the show. Most of his customers are collectors, he said, adding that the biggest misconception about gun shows is that "criminals come here to buy guns."

He said he does background checks at gun shows just like he does in his shop.

In the end, he said, people either enjoy the gun culture or they don't. Even in his own family, his two oldest children aren't that into guns.

His youngest, however, is an enthusiast, he said.