The Star Democrat: HobbyTown USA Finds More Space in Easton Marketplace
EASTON – Walk into HobbyTown USA’s new location at Easton Marketplace and you’ll likely see the same bald-headed man playing with toys – or fixing them.
Store manager Patrick Lanahan will tell you he’s enjoying himself these days. He’s got remote control planes, trains, and monster trucks; military, ship, and car models; Pinewood Derby, model rocket, and science kits and plenty more to keep him occupied until the next customer comes through the door.
“I get paid to play with toys all day; this is great,” said Lanahan.
Lanahan, retired from the state police, started working for HobbyTown in July 2008. He and a few others recently moved the store from the Shoppes at Easton and had it set up in just a few days, in time for the store’s biannual National Model Contest, which is sponsored by HobbyTown USA and by Testors, the paint people.
More space for more toys created the incentive to move to Easton Marketplace. The store is owned by Steve and Laura Ortel.
During the national contests, customers bring their best models of cars, aircraft, military vehicles and more to be judged in competition against other modelers. Winners are selected in a variety of model categories, including vehicles, aircraft, military, and dioramas, in both adult and junior divisions (age 15 and under).
“We even have kids now bringing in Legos,” said Lanahan. “We made a Lego category. Wood kits, plastic kits, we had aircraft. We didn’t have any muscle cars or anything like it this year. Sometimes you do; you’ll have muscle cars, We had just a few aircraft. A lot of it was military armor and dioramas. We probably had close to 30 dioramas.”
This spring’s winners were Samuel Hughes, of Cordova, whose destroyer model won the junior division, and Richard Merrill, of Easton, whose wooden ship model won the adult division.
The top winners move on to the National Model Contest, competing against winners from other HobbyTown USA stores with the chance of winning gift certificates worth hundreds of dollars. Modelers interested in entering the contest can get more information at the store or www.hobbytown.com.
Lanahan said HobbyTown promotes the contest with a newsletter and an in-store poster. The store will also host a Model Expo this year when customers can bring their remote control vehicles.
“Guys will bring their RC trucks out. It’s a swap meet type of thing,” said Lanahan. “And now with our parking lot out back, we have a lot of room out back to be able to run them.”
Lanahan isn’t the only one happy he’s working at a hobby store; his family is pretty happy about it too, he said.
“I’ve got four kids (Sierrah, Stefani, Adam, and Alex) and we’re big into models, model trains, and RC cars. We’ve got, between my kids and myself, we’ve got about 20 different RC vehicles. It’s kind of addicting. I like building them. I really don’t race them. I like building them and doing the work to them.”
He said one of the store’s customers has a track in Federalsburg where they race RC cars.
The Ortels’ children, Ryan and Alison, also don’t mind that their parents own a toy store. The Ortels bought the store in November, 2006.
“It looked like an interesting business,” said Laura. “The one benefit that I never counted into it was all the wonderful people that I’ve gotten to meet. It’s very social. People with their hobbies, they come in and they like to share with you what they’re doing. They talk amongst themselves and share ideas. It’s a very social environment.”
HobbyTown USA was founded in 1980 by Merlin Hayes and Thomas Walla with the purchase of a local business in Lincoln, Neb. The corporation was established to share their dream with other people who wanted to own a hobby store. Today, HobbyTown USA is a nationally registered franchise with over 190 franchises open or under development in 43 states. With the company motto of “Building Your Dream,” it is the largest retail hobby franchise in the world.
One of HobbyTown’s features is the ability to repair what they sell. Small-time hobby shops have suffered from the Internet and big-box stores, but HobbyTown continues to succeed with its specialized know-how. Buy your RC truck from Lanahan and he’ll take care of you.
“A lot of people are looking to buy things for their kids,” he said. “The big thing that sets us apart from places like Radio Shack and Walmart, if you break your truck we can fix it. We can get the parts. We can rebuild an entire truck. You could destroy an entire truck and I can have it back together for
you in an afternoon, as long as all the parts are in stock.
“If there’s an electrical problem or battery problem, I can call Traxxus. I have a dealer support line with them. I was on the phone this morning with them for almost an hour. We had a customer who got one of his speed controllers wet.”
One of the big games for the younger set now is Warhammer 40,000 (or 40k), a sci-fi tabletop war game based in the year 40,000. Players assemble and paint individual 28 mm scale miniature figures that represent futuristic soldiers, creatures, and vehicles of war. The figurines are collected to comprise squads in armies that can be pitted against those of other players.
Store hours are Monday through Saturday, 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. and Sunday, 1 p.m. to 5 p.m. The phone number is 410-820-9308.
This article originally appeared in the The Star Democrat.
Published on: May 27, 2010
By Chris Knauss