Hobby Shop Review

I’ve been meaning to write this post for a few weeks but haven’t had the patience to sit down and do it until today…

While riding the train home from work on Sep 25 I looked out the window and managed to catch sight of Chicagoland Toys and Hobbies, and noticed as the train flew by; several signs that they were going out of business. While I didn’t go there regularly, I found them to be a really good source for decent used rolling stock at a good price – things like ConCor Autoracks that were selling for $60 or more that they had for $15. Today was the first day since then that I was able to run down and check out what was left, only to discover that they were gone. The shop is empty and closed.

That pushed me to finally do the review of another store that I went to a few weeks ago.

Hiawatha Hobbies in Pewaukee WI.

I’d bought a few things from the folks at Hiawatha Hobbies last year at Trainfest in Milwaukee. I might have bought more from them at the time, but honestly I was really overwhelmed in their booth. They had A LOT of stuff in the booth, I’m not sure they had one of the largest spaces on the show floor, but they definitely had the most inventory compared to anybody else. Between all that was crammed into their booth, and the crowd that was crammed into their booth I didn’t have the patience to dig deep into all they had.

Hiawatha’s store, while not crowded when I was there, was very much a reflection of their booth at Trainfest… It is packed with stuff. One of the things that I think is a challenge for any store that carries N scale is that most N scale stuff, especially rolling stock in jewel cases, don’t take up a lot of shelf space. It’s easy to have a lot of N scale inventory in a small amount of space, or an incredible amount of inventory in a fairly large space. What’s not easy though, is figuring out how to display that inventory in a way that isn’t overwhelming and off putting.

That photo is about a third of a shelving unit in Hiawatha’s N Scale section. On one hand, it’s fantastic that there’s so much stuff. On the other – if you’re browsing for stuff that looks interesting, this wall of rolling stock is almost an impenetrable barrier…

I really don’t want to knock Hiawatha for this – it’s fantastic to find a store with so much N Scale inventory, and priced competitively.

But even with a list, I’m not sure I’d be able to find what I’m looking for here.

It’s not all negative though. The staff was very nice, and I admit I was eavesdropping, as they were really patient with a gentleman who came in and was trying to decide if he wanted a sound equipped engine or not for his newly started layout. I also think that their pricing was generally fairly competitive, and nothing stuck out as being overpriced.

If you’re in the Western Suburbs of Milwaukee, I’d recommend swinging by, and while it’s not likely I’ll make a special trip up there, if I’m in the area I’ll likely stop in and brave the “walls of trains” again. I can’t help but think that Hiawatha Hobbies needs to embrace online sales in order to move their enormous inventory.