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Ace-Garageguy

Hobby Shops, then and now

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I've been starting to collect old model train magazines, in (possibly unrealistic) anticipation of having the space in the not-too-distant future to get back into that particular hobby. The ones I find most interesting at the moment are from the late 1940s and early 1950s. Besides the incredibly high standards of scratchbuilding, craftsmanship and electrical sophistication of train modelers then (entirely contrary to what the "everything is better now" contingent would have us believe) one other thing really stands out.

During this period, MOST HOBBY ITEMS WERE MAIL-ORDERED...from catalog sellers or direct from the manufacturers from ads in the mags...not unlike the online ordering of today, but just not as immediate.

The slow but steadily increasing proliferation of hobby-shops in the 1950s was hailed by train modelers as a wonderful thing...where you could actually see and touch a kit or locomotive prior to purchasing it, and even possibly talk to an actual live human who knew something more than the words in the advertising blurb. Shops that stayed abreast of changing and developing hobby interests (like plastic armor and aircraft and car kits and RC planes, for example) experienced very nice and stable growth.

It's funny how we've gone full-circle, and that, with triple the population now, it's next to impossible for a physical hobby shop to be a viable business proposition.

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The big franchise locally has two branches, one is a glorified toy store and the other is an r/c support center. They seldom restock modelling supplies and their paint selection is particularly poor. The Hobby Lobby stores stock better paint and supplies. Unfortunately, their selection of kits is limited. At least they have a good discount coupon program, something the other guys never do. 

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I feel fortunate that I have a relatively close (78 miles away) Hobby Shop that is 100% old-school. Hayes Hobby House in Fayetteville, NC, is absolute heaven. RC, Trains, and model kits, and a staff that is incredibly good with what they sell, because they are actual builders, not just people out to make a buck off of you. If you're ever in the Fayetteville, NC area, stop on in and tell 'em Mike sent ya!

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It's funny how we've gone full-circle, and that, with triple the population now, it's next to impossible for a physical hobby shop to be a viable business proposition.

Some people have different hobbies now, like taking pictures of themselves and posting them to Facebook.  To a lot of people, the traditional hobbies seem like "work".  A lot of people I have worked with over the years don't want to work when they're at work...why would they work at anything else?

Around here, we've got three hobby shops.  One specializes in R/C.  They used to carry model kits (in the Sixties, they even operated a slot racing center) but have evolved and now cater to the niche that works for them.  Whenever I drive past that place, they seem to be busy.  The last time I was in there, they were extremely busy.

Next place opened a few years ago, the (husband and wife) owners are both modelers and IPMS members.  They sell online, carry high-end stuff you usually only see at the IPMS shows, are clued in to new developments like the Molotow chrome markers, carry several paint lines (a couple of which aren't available anywhere else within a hundred miles or so), and offer coupons every month.

The third is evolving slowly...it took several years of getting their brains bashed in by the craft store chains before finally getting out of crafts, and they are trying to fill the space by handling other things like teachers' supplies and even supplies for tattoo artists.  But they don't discount anything, nor do they do coupons.  It's no wonder they seem to be struggling while the other two (the R/C guy is a stones' throw away) seem to be doing well.

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I am really lucky to have a local shop that is about 10 miles from me that carries everything. This is the only place that literaly has the whole Model Master and Tamaiya paint selections. All of the other shops around me carry a few items, but they have slowly switched gears to something else. This place does really well because it offers everything for modelers, train guys, Rc Guy's, airbrush supplies and even has slot cars and the hard to find toy selsction. On any given time you can go in and there are probably 20 people in the store. I think they do really well because they offer a wide selection for multiple hobbies.

The biggest thing I try to do is shop there as much as I can. I know that I can order pretty much everything for cheaper online, but I don't mind spending a little more because I don't want to see them close down. With online shopping you loose the personal touch, and I like having a place where if I have a question or just want to talk shop I can go and hang out.

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In my experience, many hobby shops fail because of the shortcomings of the owners.  There are those who are obnoxious and chase customers away. There are those who are clueless and fail to understand what they are selling and how to serve that market.  And when they finally fail, they hold themselves blameless and blame everything around them.

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In my experience, many hobby shops small businesses fail because of the shortcomings of the owners.  There are those who are obnoxious and chase customers away. There are those who are clueless and fail to understand what they are selling and how to serve that market.  And when they finally fail, they hold themselves blameless and blame everything around them.

Universal truth.  B)

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The biggest thing I try to do is shop there as much as I can. I know that I can order pretty much everything for cheaper online, but I don't mind spending a little more because I don't want to see them close down. With online shopping you loose the personal touch, and I like having a place where if I have a question or just want to talk shop I can go and hang out.

HobbyTown is the closest thing to a hobby shop close to me, and I have to say they have about the best selection of tools and supplies of any hobby-related store I've ever seen. That's why I don't mind paying sometimes higher prices for current production kits. It's hard to get many of the things I want online, and I hope they stay in business for the foreseeable future.

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Tom Geiger your are right. The other shops that are around me all make you feel uncomfortable even going in. The one that really comes to mind switched to mostly a baseball card store that carries a few model supplies. If your not looking for cards, they make you feel like you shouldn't even be there. I own a small business and I know that making the customer you number one priority is key.

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I would like to own/run a hobby shop. The only way that could be remotely possible was if I owned the building it was in. You have to sell a lot of $20 kits and $2 bottles of paint to pay $3000 a month rent (plus utilities).

 

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Tom Geiger your are right. The other shops that are around me all make you feel uncomfortable even going in. 

The one that immediately comes to mind... locally there was a train shop. I passed it many times but finally stopped in. I was the only car in the parking lot. Inside there was one owner behind the counter. He was smoking and the whole place reeked of it. He immediately engaged me... what was I looking for?  Um, people come into hobby shops without a thought of what they are looking for and leave with $50-100 worth of stuff.  I told him I was a model car builder and I found that there were a lot of cross hobby supplies, so let me look around.  Nope!  He told me there was nothing there for me and showed me to the door!

Last time I drove by, the shop was closed and there was a big dumpster near the door!

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Been to alot of shops that just didn't care....last true shop I ever went to was Auto Motif in Smyrna Ga. So sorry to have seen it close....

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I would like to own/run a hobby shop. The only way that could be remotely possible was if I owned the building it was in. You have to sell a lot of $20 kits and $2 bottles of paint to pay $3000 a month rent (plus utilities).

That's the story of Bob's Hobbies in Pitman, NJ. Bob had died years ago and his widow kept the shop open. A friend of mine was the manager. He was pretty involved in the model car and RC hobbies and stocked all the right stuff.  I thought they were doing well.  He announced that the owner was retiring and wanted to sell the place. As most of us, I had always dreamed of owning a hobby shop.  So I asked my friend what the deal was, figuring that he'd stay employed and this could be a good situation.  

He immediately told me it was not a workable thing.  The hobby shop had lost money for years. What kept it afloat was that the lady owned the building free and clear, and the rent on the other storefronts and the apartments upstairs made the whole thing viable.  She was keeping the building, so I assume that once the hobby shop was cleared out, she rented that store.  And renting the empty space  was no doubt more profitable than running a hobby shop!

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I am really lucky to have a local shop that is about 10 miles from me that carries everything. This is the only place that literaly has the whole Model Master and Tamaiya paint selections. All of the other shops around me carry a few items, but they have slowly switched gears to something else. This place does really well because it offers everything for modelers, train guys, Rc Guy's, airbrush supplies and even has slot cars and the hard to find toy selsction. On any given time you can go in and there are probably 20 people in the store. I think they do really well because they offer a wide selection for multiple hobbies.

The biggest thing I try to do is shop there as much as I can. I know that I can order pretty much everything for cheaper online, but I don't mind spending a little more because I don't want to see them close down. With online shopping you loose the personal touch, and I like having a place where if I have a question or just want to talk shop I can go and hang out.

I too have a mom & pop hobby shop only 10 miles away and try to support them as much as I can.I also have a Hobby Lobby 1/2 mile away but I only go there occasionally and maybe by a can of paint or embossing powder. Back-in-the-day there were LOTS of hobby shops and stores with a hobby department. Of course that was in the 50's & 60's.

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I too have a mom & pop hobby shop only 10 miles away and try to support them as much as I can.I also have a Hobby Lobby 1/2 mile away but I only go there occasionally and maybe by a can of paint or embossing powder. Back-in-the-day there were LOTS of hobby shops and stores with a hobby department. Of course that was in the 50's & 60's.

Im like you, I have a Hobby Lobby close but only go in if it's something I can only get there. I think the retail structure is really hard for any business, but then add to it if you are in a small niche I think it is almost impossible. Owning the building would almost be a must, because around my area you are looking at  $3500- $5000 a month just in rent for a small place. 

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Thank the Styrene Gods for Alex and the Model Empire. Great store with a lot of car kits plus other things to interest anyone. Alex has taken his inventory to the big car shows in our area and also sells online. We had others, but one store closed because the owner was retiring and the family did not want to do the work. Others were so bad that they had to fall by the wayside. it's building was falling in on itself and the owner was a totally unfriendly guy. Model kits totally soaked from the leaky roof and over priced to boot. The place eventually burned to the ground...Karma? Insurance fire? POed hobbyist? Who knows.

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Thank the Styrene Gods for Alex and the Model Empire. Great store with a lot of car kits plus other things to interest anyone. Alex has taken his inventory to the big car shows in our area and also sells online. 

Alex comes all the way to New Jersey for NNL East every year too!

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Alex comes all the way to New Jersey for NNL East every year too!

He used to set up shop at the Toledo NNL back in the 2000's also.

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I would like to own/run a hobby shop. The only way that could be remotely possible was if I owned the building it was in. You have to sell a lot of $20 kits and $2 bottles of paint to pay $3000 a month rent (plus utilities).

 

If I were to get back in the game  ut as an owner this time, I'd have to have a huge amount of money (lotto winnings would probably be what I would need, start with a big fortune and all) and would probably buy a closed car delaership and remodel the inside to work better as a store than a dealership. That way, there would be plenty of sales floor, storage (buying in bull reduces costs and makes it harder to not run out of product), office space/break area (which is needed and having more would be useful), use the repair bays for indoor racing and/or park fliers, then use some of that huge parking lot to run outside racing and so long as it's not too close to an airport, outside park flying too! Problem is though, that wouldntake cubic dollars, which might at best be a losing proposition in any case where I wasn't the only shop in a 50 mile radius, even if I managed to find, competent, knowlageble staff that was able to work with any customer that came in the door without making too many of them mad at us.

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One of the few good things of living in the Maricopa County (Phoenix) area. We have several area general hobby shops within 30 minutes driving time plus a couple of more specialized shops. Plus with ASU a couple of good art supply shops which are always a good source of materials.

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Our LHS owner complains of people coming in with printed internet pages in hand, wanting to see an item they are interested in ordering online. That galls him more than anything, knowing he's giving them his time and expertise to the benefit of an anonymous web seller. He politely tells them it's all right there on the box and helps someone else.

Edited by Lunajammer

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I'm fortunate to have two reasonable shops near me. We had a third but when the patriarch died, the business soon faltered. The shop went from a welcoming shop that served both hobbyists and crafters to on that served neither market well. 

The two shops, located 15 miles apart are full line hobby shops with a craft range that excels beyond Hobby Lobby. The sad truth is they're nearing retirement age and the wife has told me that the shops will close as they don't believe they can sell at a reasonable price as one large inventory and their children have no interest. 

When that happens, it will be difficult to keep up with the hobby as I don't make many shows and don't want to order online.

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I will miss the good local shops here...I went to Hobby Depot in Tempe often over the last 9 years. 

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I'm lucky I guess.

I have two local hobby shops within a 15 minute drive.

1st one has mostly RC stuff but with a pretty decent model selection. After several conversations. I got him to start stocking Tamiya paints.

 

The 2nd one is mostly train stuff. But he also has models and supplies.  With a real good paint selection .

 

I try to use them both as much as I can. 

 

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I'm out in the wilds of Western Massachusetts and we still have an 'old time hobby shop' here that always has what I need in an emergency and when I'm in a kit buying mood. I don't even look at prices ... I'll support him to the end. He has been trying to retire and sell but it's been a few years and no takers yet. He is a small store but has die casts, RC, trains and many other hobbies covered.

We are extremely fortunate to have a resource like this so close.

Hobby World

171 Grove St. (Rt 8)

Adams, MA 01220

 

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