Legends of the Fall

I don’t visit hobby stores very often, because they are not, really, welcoming places. They’re not exactly your favorite cozy coffee shop. They’re usually run by a surly old cuss (or one of his surly assistants, who are always named “Igor” for some reason). If he is a train lover, then anybody who isn’t a train lover is a pain in the backside. The same formula applies to RC lovers, ship lovers, etc.

Hobby stores are usually very poor on the customer service. So bad, in fact, that it’s a measure of how devoted we hobbyists are that these places ever existed. In the clothing business, you’d have to cater to the super wealthy to have customer service THIS bad–which indicates something. The super wealthy get an elitist kick out of being abused by a fashion monkey, and we hobbyists just like our hobbies. Having to wade through a sea of crankiness just gives it a little kick, like a habanero in the salad.

One of the last of the old-time hobby stores is Hub Hobby. I described them in my blog post on what to see in Minnesota. They are not dedicated to plastic model kits. In fact, they aren’t dedicated to anything. More and more, they are expanding their inventory to include anything and everything, and that new stuff has to go somewhere.

Witness the decline of the plastic kit. At one time, plastic model kits in 1/72 (and smaller) scale filled up one half of one aisle at the store. 1/48 (and larger) kits filled the other half of the same aisle. One entire aisle was dedicated to plastic airplanes, another aisle was for cars, and another aisle was tanks and ships. Today, the size of the plastic model kit section of the store is half of what it was. Half an aisle is plastic airplanes. Half an aisle is cars, and another half is tanks and ships. The total space for plastics went from three aisles to one and a half.

What filled up the other one and a half aisles? Lego models. Gundam models. Folding metal kits. Die-cast models. Ready-made plastic models that look like die-casts. The old plastic kit has to compete with a whole slew of alternatives. In the thirty years I have lived in the Twin Cities I have seen the number of hobby stores cut in half, and size of the plastic kit aisle within those stores cut in half as well.

Slowly but surely, the retail store that specializes in plastic kits is being replaced by something else. But I don’t believe that this means that plastic kits are going away. On the contrary. I believe that the hard core of plastic kit fans will always buy their gear through the internet, and as long as Kevin Costner keeps delivering those kits from Sprue Brothers, we’ll keep right on building them, and complaining on forums, and engaging in silly internet feuds.

Here’s to mail order. May the employees of brick and mortar hobby stores find suitable employment at Hobby Lobby.

Brushpainter

Well look, I already told you! I deal with the customers so the engineers don't have to! I have people skills! I am good at dealing with people! Can't you understand that? What is wrong with you people?

comments
  • There are a couple of things I miss.

    Paints were generally cheaper from a brick and mortar store.

    Older kits (matchbox, old Airfix, other assorted oddbods) used to be very cheap from shops, on the internet they are ‘collector items’ and suddenly get a premium and the word ‘rare’ slapped on them.

    You didn’t have to worry about postal restrictions for evil enamel or spirit based products.

    Hobby shops, at least here, used to sell board war games, of which I have many and enjoy playing. These days you cannot find them for sale in shops here, and only through online companies like GMT can you get them, and the postage is horrendous.

  • I’m pretty lucky. I have four stores the carry models within shouting distance of me and that doesn’t include Hobby Lobby and Michaels. There is also another local model shop in Portland, which is a couple of hours north. Eugene Toy and Hobby is the one right here in town. It is a third generation establishment. Great people and extremely helpful. RC and trains are a good part of their business, but they do have basically a super-market isles worth of plastic kits. They also have some good sales. I love the place. Most of the other hobby stores I have been in also deal in trains and RC. I have no problem with that. However they need to structure their business to stay in business is OK with me. There is also a second hand/antique store in the next town over that buys kit collections and sells vintage kits. I feel like I am extremely lucky to have all of these resources around. I try to buy or order my kits from them whenever possible. Please support your local shops!

    • I applied for a job at Eugene Toy and Hobby in 1978. Despite my natural lack of social skills, introversion and lack of customer service aptitude I was not hired. I ended up working at a place called “The Feed Mill” which was a restaurant that went out of business a few months later. They remained viable just long enough to employ me as a “parking lot guard.” My job was to make sure that only customers parked in the lot. I was supposed to ask every person parking in the lot if they were going to The Feed Mill. In order not to alarm the guests, they outfitted me with a red blazer with arms that were three inches too short. For some reason, most of the customers ran from me. The owner would park in the lot and loudly ask me “What’s the soup of the day?” and I would answer “minestrone.” I still can’t understand why they went under.

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