In my travels to many cities, I have noticed that Hobby Stores are closing, or going to selling merchandise online only. There are less train clubs, and less train shows for the general public. GATS is no longer around and Greenberg is not coming to as many cities. This is hurting the hobby. If it does not stop the hobby will no longer be around either.

What is killing your local hobby store and the touring train shows? The online stores and EBAY that operate out of people’s houses. You are able to shop online, and sometimes find better deals than at your local hobby store. Your online stores do not have to carry much inventory, because they say that all orders will ship within 5 – 7 business days. This is because it will take them that long to get the merchandise from their wholesaler. They also do not have to have overhead cost of utilities, insurance, employees, etc. These costs allow the online establishments to under price your local hobby store, taking business away and slowly but surely driving your hobby store out of business. Where I live, there have been 4+ hobby stores that have gone under in the last 6 years because of Internet competition.

These same things have hurt the GATS and Greenberg shows. They have stopped coming around to some of your cities. I know what you may be thinking, but there were so many people there. Yes, attendance may have been great and the revenue from the door made GATS and Greenberg happy, but were people buying items thus keeping the dealers happy? I’m guessing not. Without dealers, you can not have a traveling show, plus the overall cost of building insurance, transportation and travel costs were going up through the roof. Why should dealers travel 300+ miles and not make anything, when they can sell online.

How many of you have a kid, that not only has a DVD player, cable and or satellite TV in their room, but also a Playstation or Gamecube, if not both. Kids these days feel like playing with video games, not building a train set. Why do you think Microsoft came out with a Train Simulator? They knew kids would want it and play it. When my generation was growing up in the 70’s and 80’s, there were no video games for the home and most of us did not have cable. We had to entertain ourselves, playing outside or running trains was a great way for our parents to spend time with us.

Not these days! Adults put a game in for the kids so that you are not interrupted from talking on the phone, instant messaging someone, and watching your TV. Kids want video games, not trains, and parents are totally in agreement with this.

There is a 2-fold solution here. One, spend time with your kid and build a model, put a train set together, visit local train shows that clubs put on. If you still get GATS or Greenberg, then visit them. You and your kid spend more time together, and you son may want you to purchase a train set. Plus, you can explain all of the new technology that is out there for the hobby, such as DCC, sound chips, realistic lighting, running the trains from computers, having lights and switches working with a touch of a button. You can show them that not all technology is for their Playstations. As smart as kids are, they might surprise you on how quickly they get involved in model railroading.

This leads us into the second part of the solution, which is to support your local store. This will enable hobby stores to stay open because of new business, which can help the hobby survive. Yes you may pay a little more, but if you need assistance on installing a decoder, or installing couplers, metal wheels, you have someone local you can talk to. Plus, you can get what you need that day, not 2 weeks down the road. Without local hobby stores, our hobby as we know it, will cease to exist. You can also return something so much easier if the item does not work, plus if you build up a good working relationship, you can even have them special order items that will be out in a few months.

I challenge you to build a train set on a 4 x 8 sheet of plywood, with a few switches, to allow both you and your son to spend time together. It is not that hard, and there are plenty how to books, and your local hobby store can even help you pick out what is needed. From there, the possibilities are endless, and who knows, you and your kids may even be able to build something that is magazine quality.

Jim Ward is a member of the K & I Model RR Club for over 15 yrs, along with being a member of the Division 8 of the NMRA based out of Louisville, KY. He currently is on the Train Show Committee of the Division, helping them move to a larger location to better display the hobby to the general public.