The most famous red door in Bloomington-Normal will be closing for the last time next month.
Hobbyland owner Jerry Martin plans to retire, and he hasn’t been able to find an owner to rescue the business like he did in 2005. The store will close for good Oct. 28.
“I have a lot of good loyal customers that come in here,” Martin said on GLT’s Sound Ideas. “They’re very saddened by it because it’s hard to find any hobby store—let alone a full-line hobby store—where you can just walk in and pick up the part you’re looking for, put it in your hands, and look at it. That’s what most people like about the store.”
Hobbyland opened in 1954 as Murray’s Hobbyland, originally located at 1110 N. Main St. close to Illinois Wesleyan University. The store has since moved to its current location at 616 N. Main St., on the north end of downtown Bloomington.
Martin took over the business in 2005—the last time it needed saving. He retooled the entire store and put a big emphasis on marketing, including the “Fun Store with the Red Door” slogan.
It worked for awhile, and he maintained a loyal customer base interested in trains, remote-control cars, and rockets. (Trains are a seasonal seller, Martin said, with more business in the cold months as people huddled up in their basements to escape winter.)
But the pressures mounted. Internet sales have knocked even big-box stores out of business, and online retailers like Amazon have eaten into Hobbyland’s business, Martin said. “That’s just been a killer to mom and pop stores, especially the hobby industry.” Older customers have passed away. Others have moved away, out of Illinois. Martin lost more customers when they lost their jobs at the Mitsubishi Motors manufacturing plant in 2016.
And even if parents bring them into the store, children in 2017—with access to iPhones and Xboxes—don’t have the same interest in model trains that they did 40 years ago, Martin said.
“If you put all of that into the whole equation, and put the Internet sales on top of that, it makes it very challenging,” Martin said.
In retirement, Martin plans to spend more time with his grandchildren in Nashville.
The hardest part, he said, will be saying goodbye to the hobbyists who come into his store.
“That’s what I’m going to miss most. My customers.”
You can also listen to GLT's full interview with Martin:
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