Bear spray ‘explosion’ forces closure of Cody sports store

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Not only is bear spray good at warding off grizzlies, it’s also terribly effective at ruining hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of merchandise, a Cody store’s owners learned last week.

Sunlight Sports must replace much of its stock — and owners Wes and Melissa Allen expect they’ll have to remain closed for multiple weeks of clean-up — after a can of bear spray broke open in the store on Sept. 14.

The canister “basically exploded” after an employee accidentally bumped it off a hook and down 5 feet to the ground, Wes Allen explained in a Monday post to Sunlight Sports’ Facebook page. Some of the spray got sucked into the ventilation system — which then spread the oil around the store.

“It’s virtually unbelievable how wide of an area 9 ounces of bear spray will cover,” Allen wrote.

Several Sunlight Sports workers were affected. Bear spray is generally made up of blisteringly hot ingredients derived from chili peppers.

“No one was seriously hurt, but there was a lot of coughing, choking and runny eyes for a few days,” Allen wrote.

He said the “vast majority” of the store’s inventory got hit by the oily substance.

“It sticks to everything, and it lingers,” Allen said in a Wednesday interview, adding that the spray remains potent in extremely small amounts.

Careful cleaning can restore some items, but the peppery spray soaked into things made of cloth; the store could run those items through an industrial washing machine, but as Allen noted, they could no longer be sold as new merchandise.

Exacerbating the issue, “it turns out that, really thinking about it, what we sell are really things that you either wear, you stay in or you cook and eat with,” Allen said.

He guessed Wednesday the total amount of damages will reach “well into the mid-six figures.” The store does have insurance, though Allen said in Monday’s Facebook post that he didn’t yet know how that coverage will come into play.

Sunlight Sports is shooting for a grand reopening in the first full week of October. Allen said people can help by shopping there when the store reopens.

“(W)hat people have done already is amazing,” Allen wrote in the Facebook post. “The calls, the help with meals, the encouragement, everything has been incredibly touching. It means a ton to our team, and our family, that so many people have been there for us.”

That community support — from Cody, Powell and across Park County — has Allen convinced that “we’re going to get through it.”

He wrote in a Monday Facebook comment that, “We have a wager going as to how long it will be until it’s funny. The over/under is five years after our lips and eyes stop burning.”

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