Thursday, 27 August 2015

Niagara Central Hobbies

The sign in the window says it all.  Niagara Central Hobbies is closing its doors after nearly sixty years in business.
The Changing Face of Hobby Retailing
Photos and Commentary by Peter Mumby

On Friday, August 14, I made a short pilgrimage to St Catharines - and had a long trip down memory lane.  I had heard that Niagara Central Hobbies was going to close up shop after being in business since 1947.  I had no idea what kind of stock remained, but I decided I wanted to visit the store one last time.

When I first started getting serious about model trains in the early 1970s, there were two major hobby shops in Southern Ontario - George's Trains in Toronto, and Niagara Central in St Catharines.  With its rows of glass cases full of brass locomotives and rolling stock, Niagara Central was my shop of choice.  My first brass locomotive was purchased there, circa 1973; it looked great, but never did actually run particularly well.  As I recall, subsequent visits often involved taking items to trade.  Allowances were fair, and Ray Lounsbury was always reasonable to deal with.

By the late 1970s I had started doing a fair bit of custom painting.  This didn't last for too many years, with the main reasons being twofold.  First, the solvent-based paints of the era didn't really agree with my nasal passages.  Most important, however, after working on an item for 4-6 weeks, I really hated to give it up. Imagine my pleasant surprise when, on one visit to Niagara Central, Ray's display case included a brass FP7  diesel I had recently painted in CP colours for a customer!  By buying this unit back, I was finally able to have my cake and eat it too.

By the early 1980s I had gotten serious about becoming a train show vendor.  I can remember reading letters to the editor in MR and RMC magazines about the perceived threat such vendors, with their low overhead and discount prices, posed for bricks and mortar hobby shops.  Little did we know at that point that, thirty years down the line, something called the Internet would spawn businesses capable of offering even deeper discounts - tough competition for both the storefront shops and the train show dealers!

So, back to my pilgrimage of August 14.  Did I return to London with a trunk full of hobby bargains?  Prices were being discounted by 60%, but stock by then was pretty well limited to bits and parts.  I probably didn't really need a few more decal sets and detail parts, but I picked them up anyway - and I hope my grandson will enjoy the Thomas the Tank locomotive I selected for his wooden train set!

Your final possible date for a visit to Niagara Central Hobbies on St Paul Street in St Catharines is August 29.

My first brass locomotive was purchased at Niagara Central around 1973.  If you look carefully you can see that the price had been reduced from $119.98 to $99.98.  And I didn't have to pay HST!

Here is the brass FP7 model that made my day on one of those late 1970s visits.  State of the art back then, but I hesitate to put it side-to-side with one of today's Rapido models!

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