Vanishing hobby stores

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mjennings

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I think the owner retirement issue is a big one. That's what happened to Spacecoast Hobbies when I was in Florida. Happened to a Hobby Town near me too, and lots of the train specific shops near me too.
 

Not Quite Nominal

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Indeed. I remember mail ordering climbing ropes, figure-8s, and carabiners from REI's newspaper-like catalog. Now REI is the place where suburban housewives buy overpriced NorthFace jackets.
Same. I remember standing in line to get cheap ice tools and gear. I also remember when North Face got out of climbing, and all the climbing gear was half off.

Now REI is just a lifestyle retailer for the Pradagonia crowd. My REI card and membership have lapsed.
 

dhbarr

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I think this happens to a lot of businesses:
  • starts up passionate about some niche
  • wins a lot of loyal fans
  • diversifies to drive revenue
  • loses a lot of loyal fans
  • goes under, wonders why
 

dr wogz

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@dhbarr
I think you are missing a few points: (or to add to your list)
  • Market changes (new / different interests pop up & the store refines itself to match these new interests [hobby shops turning into toy shops])
  • Environment changes (the location where the store is changes to a higher end 'fashion' area..)
  • Fail to adapt to changing marketing & shopping practices (capable website, online sales, insists on only selling X-Brand kits, etc..)
  • Accessibility (raised parking rates, fewer parking spots, website, phone calls, etc..)
  • Attitude (that 'one' sales person who becomes a bit of a snob, who soon drives customers away with their 'righteous' attitude)
  • Comfort level (the old guy goes in to buy some balsa wood, but is inundated by the 17 teen-agers at the back of the store playing their Magic games.. So, the old guy, uncomfortable with eh noise & such, just leaves..)
  • Shop suppliers / distributors who change, change their stock, make getting parts & such difficult or costly, etc..

I've dealt with all of the above thru various stores. some of which soon realized they made some mistakes, and changed their ways..
 

Ez2cDave

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4 hour round trip? For $10 worth of balsa?
THAT makes a lot of sense.
Obviously, the prudent / economical approach would be to "stock up" on quantities of wood and other supplies, rather than making the run for just a few items . . . Not to mention, if there are other Modelers in your area, making a "group purchase" part of the trip.

Also, why not take your "significant other" along and make a "day trip" out of it . . . ?

You get dropped off at the Hobby Shop, they go "exploring" and pick you up later. Then, depending on the time of day, have a nice lunch / dinner and head home ( "Bang for the buck" ) !

Dave F.
 

KC3KNM

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I also disliked the change from electronics parts to consumer electronics, but let's be fair... These days, how many people in any given area actually buy resistors or diodes or whatever? The clientele the original RadioShack had disappeared. The Shack's big mistake was not embracing Maker culture and jumping into that market with a vengeance. That was the closest market to the electronic geek of the past. If they had put a couple Maker tech specialist stores in each city, and also stocked computer build components, they would have survived longer and might still be around.
When I lived in KC I found this place (http://www.eskc.com/Default.asp).

They had a good selection of components, test equipment, batteries, pc parts... They also had a ton of old used parts out of random electronics. Going through the used section and coming up with a new project was the best. It was magical.

I totally understand why stores like this don’t really exist anymore outside of a few select locations, but that doesn’t make it any less of a bummer.
 

boomtube-mk2

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Indeed. I remember mail ordering climbing ropes, figure-8s, and carabiners from REI's newspaper-like catalog. Now REI is the place where suburban housewives buy overpriced NorthFace jackets.
I lived for a year or so in Everett WA. back in the late '70's and had the opportunity to shop at the original REI store in Seattle. That was back when they offered equipment designated "K2" because it was actually the tents, backpacks, sleeping bags, boots, stoves etc. that the first expedition up K2 used.
By today's standards those items were "stone-age primitive" but back then they were the best that could be had and for many years after REI always offered the best that could be had.
That seemed to have ended sometime in the '90's when they became a retailer of basically the same stuff you could get at any Big 5 sporting goods store and if you wanted any serious mountaineering gear you had to go to a specialty store and how many of those are around today?
 
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dr wogz

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you have 'REI'.. We in Canada have MEC.. same idea.. Co-op you join, and had good prices on quality name outdoor / adventure products..

And is now a high end fashion shop (as 'Not Quite Normal' points out..) membership is either free now, or you pay a one-time fee.. I got membership years ago! (like, 22 yrs ago, or there abouts!

 

afadeev

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REI was once the place people mounting an expedition up K2 shopped, now it is The Gap with bicycles.
Counter-point: since I have no intention to conquer K2 or Everest, yet my kids are into climbing and bouldering (and biking, hiking, camping, canoeing, etc.), present day REI is great for my family.
They are one of the few places that have managed to maintain a reasonable inventory of bikes in stores and online, and sold a few of those to me last year. Will likely sell another one in a few weeks (once the right size is restocked).

The market for (K2 climbers) <<< (urban/sub-urban adventurers).

I lived for a year or so in Everett WA. back in the late '70's and had the opportunity to shop at the original REI store in Seattle. That was back when they offered equipment designated "K2" because it was actually the tents, backpacks, sleeping bags, boots, stoves etc. that the first expedition up K2 used. By today's standards those items were "stone-age primitive" but back then they were the best that could be had and for many years after REI always offered the best that could be had.
That seemed to have ended sometime in the '90's when they became a retailer of basically the same stuff you could get at any Big 5 sporting goods store and if you wanted any serious mountaineering gear you had to go to a specialty store and how many of those are around today?
Are you sure you can't special order professional climbing gear from REI? They have a ridiculous selection of gear online.

But in terms of rocketry supply parallels, I am not aware of any "local" store that went national and lost its focus.
Rather, the problem is that local stores have gotten out of date with the latest trends and needs, owners aged out and retired, and demand for their specialized services has dried up.
The biggest challenge for me in shopping local mom-n-pop stores is the same is what others have stated: commute distance, open times, minimal selection, off-putting in-store interactions.
Plus one thing - "local" store markups are outrageous, frequently 40-60% above what I would pay online from places like ACsupply, BMS, or WM.

Common retail distribution chains thrive on ~20% markups in most industries (clothing is higher), but "local hobby stores" push their luck well beyond that. And usually provide little in return.
It's not that I can't afford tipping "local" store an extra $20 for the in-person "experience", but if you combine that "cover fee" with long distance driving requirements, lousy inventory management, and grumpy + condescending sales experiences, I just don't have any motivation for doing that.

Sorry, but "local" does not always mean "good".
When you find a "good local" store - spread the news and we will all patronize them. As to the others - many have had it coming.

Case in point - when someone asks me where they should take their kids to go shopping for rockets, I can only send them to the (lousy) Hobby Lobby. I have actually stopped shopping their myself - their rocketry inventory stinks. But it's the only well lit, non-smelly establishment where I know the parents and kids will not get grossed out and run out before completing the purchase.

*sigh*
 
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boomtube-mk2

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The Hobby Lobby in my town has completely given-up on model trains as well as rockets clearing the store of all that they had on the shelves.
I went into the store when it first opened and again several years later and the trains and rocket section had the exact same stock as when they first opened, I don't think they had sold a single item in those two departments.
Not sure what that says about Hobby Lobby, or my town either one but it probably isn't good because as far as I can tell, I am the only person in a town of 12,000 or so people that participates in those hobbies.
This wasn't so back when I was a kid in the '60's early '70's visiting relatives out these ways.
This is why I think that changing demographics have been the death blow to many independent hobby shops in small town America, the younger generations don't participate in hobbies anymore, it is all electronic gaming and some such.
 

Blast it Tom!

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Well, the local Hobby Lobby here just sold me 3 E12-6's for $16... and the also stock Createx acrylics, and a small but useful selection of Estes kits, engines, igniters, wadding, even a launch pad set. Plus you can get craft plywood, balsa, and dowels, just not in the same area. Plenty of artist tools as well.

I'd agree, though, @boomtube-mk2, electronics have been a crippling influence. My daughter & her hubby as well as Grandma & Gramdpa are doing their best to keep ours off the screens and doing something outside and/or with their hands.
 

NateB

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I also disliked the change from electronics parts to consumer electronics, but let's be fair... These days, how many people in any given area actually buy resistors or diodes or whatever? The clientele the original RadioShack had disappeared. The Shack's big mistake was not embracing Maker culture and jumping into that market with a vengeance. That was the closest market to the electronic geek of the past. If they had put a couple Maker tech specialist stores in each city, and also stocked computer build components, they would have survived longer and might still be around.
When I was in high school (late 90s) I wanted to repair a stereo amp my dad built from a kit when he was in high school. 1 older gentleman who worked at the local Radio Shack was very helpful, but couldn't track down the tubes it needed. The other employees had no clue where to even begin.

I think the Maker Movement came too late to save Radio Shack. I am sure they would have jumped on it now, but didn't survive long enough for that interest to come back.

On a similar note, I went to a welding store to buy some brazing rods for a small bike repair. The guy dug some out for me, didn't charge me, and said I was the first person to ask for those in years and he wasn't sure people still brazed steel tubes together.
 

kevindcornwell

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Interesting that the article noted they'd looked at 100 or so empty stores in the area and couldn't find one cheap enough. What sort of incentive does a real estate company have to hold empty properties rather than reduce the rent and make some money? There are things in life that I don't understand...
I see the same thing where I live. Turns out that empty commercial space is a loss on paper and the loss can be a tax write-off. Often, it's easier to claim and benefit from the tax deduction then it is to deal with unpleasant tenants who don't want to pay. So the owners just let the space sit empty...
 

lakeroadster

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I see the same thing where I live. Turns out that empty commercial space is a loss on paper and the loss can be a tax write-off. Often, it's easier to claim and benefit from the tax deduction then it is to deal with unpleasant tenants who don't want to pay. So the owners just let the space sit empty...
Yet another example of Government sticking their nose where it doesn't belong.. :facepalm:
 

wbeggs

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I also miss the hobby stores when you got to just walk down the aisles and see all the cool stuff. I think the availability online and in many cases free shipping on stuff really did them in. You can also YouTube just about anything so that expert behind the counter isn't needed as much as they were in the past. One place I love to visit is Apogee Components in Colorado Springs. They have a "Free" area and I always walk out with all sorts of body tubes, balsa, etc.
 

Jowayen

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Obviously, the prudent / economical approach would be to "stock up" on quantities of wood and other supplies, rather than making the run for just a few items . . . Not to mention, if there are other Modelers in your area, making a "group purchase" part of the trip.

Also, why not take your "significant other" along and make a "day trip" out of it . . . ?
Widowed...
But thanks for asking

And the prudent / economical approach is to buy only what I need online, not have stacks and stacks in a corner...
 

Ez2cDave

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One place I love to visit is Apogee Components in Colorado Springs. They have a "Free" area and I always walk out with all sorts of body tubes, balsa, etc.
I just got a "mental image" of Tim Van Milligan's face, as you stroll out the door with a dolly, full of boxes, that the UPS / Fed Ex guy accidentally left in the "Free Area" . . . I bet it would be "priceless" . . . LOL !

Dave F.
 

AfterBurners

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I just got a "mental image" of Tim Van Milligan's face, as you stroll out the door with a dolly, full of boxes, that the UPS / Fed Ex guy accidentally left in the "Free Area" . . . I bet it would be "priceless" . . . LOL !

Dave F.
He'd probably **** kittens LOL
 

Not Quite Nominal

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Counter-point: since I have no intention to conquer K2 or Everest, yet my kids are into climbing and bouldering (and biking, hiking, camping, canoeing, etc.), present day REI is great for my family.
They are one of the few places that have managed to maintain a reasonable inventory of bikes in stores and online, and sold a few of those to me last year. Will likely sell another one in a few weeks (once the right size is restocked).
Counter-counter-point:

REI used to have good bikes. Their in-house Novara bikes used good components, carefully selected to give the good performance per dollar, usually skipping the overpriced gimmicks and weight weenie stuff that inflated the price.

Their bikes were every bit as good as you could get at a local bike shop at half the price, only with better service and no commission-based salesmen.

The last Novara bikes and new "co-op" bikes are built to the same low standard as Walmart bikes, but at twice the price. Don't believe me? Look at the lawsuits they've had to settle because the folding bikes can't seem to stay unfolded.
The market for (K2 climbers) <<< (urban/sub-urban adventurers).
As an ardent capitalist, I agree. Businesses should compete, constrained by the law and decency, and may the best win.

But REI wasn't a business. It was a co-op. I had a membership. I volunteered for their cleanup days. I went to their talks. I even gave one. My friends worked there so they could pro-deal outdoor gear from the manufacturers.

I rented gear from an REI for a mountaineering trip. They put up my summit photo on the cork board when I came back.

The last time I got their yearly mail, the leadership team looked like the board of an investment bank. Now they peddle the same global supply chain lowest-bidder planned obsolescence "lifestyle accessories" as everyone else, only smeared with an oleaginous coating of smugness so that the Instagram set can pose with it and flex on their poorer followers.

No thanks. I'll buy the same stuff on Aliexpress. It's half the price, and at least I know most of my money is going to the guy who made it.
 

Buckeye

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The last time I got their yearly mail, the leadership team looked like the board of an investment bank. Now they peddle the same global supply chain lowest-bidder planned obsolescence "lifestyle accessories" as everyone else, only smeared with an oleaginous coating of smugness so that the Instagram set can pose with it and flex on their poorer followers.
^^^ Love this post. Nailed it!

While we are bashing REI, I just love their sanctimonious act of closing their stores on Black Friday to promote "get outside." Yet, their webstore is still open 24/7 to rack up the holiday shopping sales.
 

arconhi

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Last time I went to a Radio Shack it was all smart phones. I asked the clerk where the resistors were stocked. The reply? Blank stare. The store evolved into something unrecognizable.
I miss the Analog days. 😁
 

Winston

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There two HobbyTown USA stores in my town and I support them when they have what I need. However, how they manage to remain open is beyond me and I begin to suspect they are used as a tax write-off by the franchise owner.
 

boomtube-mk2

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REI used to have good bikes. Their in-house Novara bikes used good components, carefully selected to give the good performance per dollar, usually skipping the overpriced gimmicks and weight weenie stuff that inflated the price.
I'd be surprised if REI currently has any bikes in stock to sell. Nobody else does. My local WalMart's bicycle department is absolutely empty of bicycles as is two shops that I am aware of even their stock of parts and accessories is down to practically nothing.

Not sure what this is all about or if it is nation wide, like the dearth of new automobiles at the dealerships*, but I have a bad feeling that this is symptomatic of something worse heading our way.

*Ford has no Torus, or Fusion's, Dodge/Chrysler has no Chargers, Challengers or 300's, Chevrolet has no Impalas, Malibu's etc., etc., etc., etc.
 

mjennings

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Found out that my local electronics store closed up yesterday. They had been in a store for years and the landlord refused to renew them about 2 years ago. They resettled in one if the partially deserted malls, and apparently it didn't work out. Website says they are looking for a place but we'll see. They had super knowledge staff and excellent prices.
 

Not Quite Nominal

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Just another bunch of woke leftist capitalists who feel secretly guilty about being rich I guess. ;)
Let's not make this about politics. Do you seriously believe that the CEO of Citibank believes in whatever political statement he's solemnly making this week?

They will say whatever gets the midwits to open their wallets. It might be left wing politics this week. It could be right wing politics next week.

It turns out you can sell any kind of slave-labor schlock at any price you want, so long as your marks think it improves their self esteem, social status, or feeling of belonging.
 

NOLA_BAR

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I patronize my local hobby store as much as possible. I mainly buy scratch building materials, balsa and basswood. They have stopped carrying balsa due to the price increase. I have been buying any balsa from them that I think I may use in the future. Their main sales revenue seems to come from plastic model builders, but they did have a really good selection of balsa for airplane modelers. Now the balsa shelves are mostly empty.:(
 

Jimmy

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I patronize my local hobby store as much as possible. I mainly buy scratch building materials, balsa and basswood. They have stopped carrying balsa due to the price increase. I have been buying any balsa from them that I think I may use in the future. Their main sales revenue seems to come from plastic model builders, but they did have a really good selection of balsa for airplane modelers. Now the balsa shelves are mostly empty.:(
Interesting that you mention balsa. I don't usually buy in bulk but the balsa sheets found in the newer rocket kits don't seem like good quality.
 

Peartree

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I'd be surprised if REI currently has any bikes in stock to sell. Nobody else does. My local WalMart's bicycle department is absolutely empty of bicycles as is two shops that I am aware of even their stock of parts and accessories is down to practically nothing.

Not sure what this is all about or if it is nation wide, like the dearth of new automobiles at the dealerships*, but I have a bad feeling that this is symptomatic of something worse heading our way.

*Ford has no Torus, or Fusion's, Dodge/Chrysler has no Chargers, Challengers or 300's, Chevrolet has no Impalas, Malibu's etc., etc., etc., etc.
There have been several articles about thus in our local newspaper and I've seen several online discussions about it. Apparently, with everyone staying home more, sales of bicycles, and virtually all outdoor equipment, went through the roof. Stress everywhere sold out, warehouses emptied, and the supply chain hasn't been able to keep up. This has been seen in everything from fishing tackle, to kayaks, bicycles, and anything "outdoorsy." Coastal Pets is a large local maker of stuff for your dogs, cats, and other pets (like leashes) and they've added shifts and been hiring like mad throughout the pandemic and still can't keep up.
 
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