I confess: even though it was less than two kilometres away, I rarely stopped in at Mr Hobby. They catered to the radio control and plastic modellers, and rarely had anything for me. Occasionally I dipped into their K&S metal rack; they may have sold me a bottle or two of paint. The owner (I never learned his name) was planning to retire in a few years, he said.
At one time there were at least four hobby shops here on the north shore. Ambleside succumbed in the late nineties; Westview, which was only fifteen minutes’ walk from our new house, only lasted a few months after we moved in 2002. Finescale, down on second, hung on for a few years before following lower rents to the Okanagan. Mr Hobby was the last until they papered over their windows this week.
Those of us who grew up with a local hobby store are bound to lament their passing. Where will today’s kids go to squander their allowances? Where will beginners go when the going gets tough? Where will the rest of us thumb through magazines and trade stories? If you joined the hobby before the turn of the century, these are mysteries, and it’s easy to imagine that the hobby is doomed.
The truth is, it’s a wonder hobby shops have lasted as long as they have. The good ones have enormous inventories that barely move. Name another store where you might find stock that has been collecting dust for over a decade. Oh right, used book stores. I rest my case.
Even so, used books still sell, and so do model trains. These are simply the sensible vanguard in the movement online that is going to completely decimate retail shopping in the years ahead.
My kids don’t even think about buying from stores – well except the candy store. When there is something they want, they research and source it entirely online. Their trusted advisors are on YouTube, not behind a brass-filled display counter. They thumb through online magazines and will find their hobby friends on social networks, not around a coffee pot gently encrusting among the dust bunnies and empty cardboard boxes at the back of a store.
So yes, local shops have filled a vital part of our hobby for the past half century or more. Yet their sad demise does not mean the collapse of the hobby itself. It is just a change, not the end.