Words Sarah Langton-Lockton Photographs Neil Brown
It’s a modest shop at the northern end of Preston Street, a rather featureless building in a parade of modern shops, but the plate glass windows packed with kit make it a thrilling draw for the ardent hobbyist. The manager is Harvey Alexander; his parents set up the business in 1988. ‘Dad worked for Woolworths,’ he explains. ‘When his parents died and left him some money, he thought it was a good time to get out of Woolworths and decided to open this shop. There was nothing like it in the town, and for him it was a way of making a business out of something that was also a hobby.’
At first the shop was in a medieval house in West Street, number 122 to be precise. ‘We’d wedged things in well and we knew where everything was,’ says Harvey.’ When pressed on whether girls are into model railways these days, he admits that the average customer for model railway kit is male and over 40. He insists it’s not just a boy’s thing: ‘We do have a group of lads in most days, from Queen Elizabeth’s Grammar School or the Abbey School, but Lego brings the girls in too and Playmobil appeals to girls and boys from a young age.’ On Faversham Life’s recent visit to the Hobby Shop, male customers certainly predominated, but we also spotted a clued-up older woman tracking down scatter grass for repairs to a doll’s house.
Harvey worked in the shop as a schoolboy on every other Saturday. Later, he worked for an accountant in Canterbury, then in Sainsbury’s as a trolley boy. ‘We opened a shop in Canterbury in 1996 and I ran that until it closed in 2001.’ He then transferred to the Faversham shop and has been there ever since.
A guided tour of the shop starts with Brio wooden train sets and accessories for the 18-month-old child upwards, and Lego, which Harvey says appeals to all ages. It is, he says, consistently the bestselling toy of all time, and cites the existence of online clubs and a Facebook page for AFOLs (Adult Fans of Lego). Playmobil, which Harvey says is very popular, has also been around for a while. The next section is jigsaw puzzles: ‘A surprising number of people love jigsaws. Older people, in particular, like a puzzle of an evening.’ One puzzle in stock, by Falcon de luxe, called Seasons in the Village, consists of four 1,000-piece jigsaws of views of Faversham. A certain amount of artistic licence imbues the scenes with a rosy glow, but the pictures are recognisable and would while away many a dull evening in winter, for the modest price of £20.
Then there are the trading card games such as Magic: The Gathering and Pokemon, where players buy a starter pack and can then buy extra cards and start swapping duplicates. But by far the biggest area of the shop is taken up by model railways. ‘We have everything from…well, everything,’ says Harvey. But there’s always something he hasn’t got and which he’s happy to order.
‘There are people who just specifically model a certain area in a certain time frame.’ Hornby make British locomotives, known to aficionados as ‘locos’, and there are companies that make French, German and Italian vehicles. Trains vary in size from tiny to big ones for the garden. Some people have special buildings, and one customer, says Harvey, ‘has a railway in his garden that you can see on Google Earth.’ There are Plastruct building elements, girders and suchlike for constructing buildings, and in the final section of the shop plastic kits by Airfix for making cars, motorbikes, lorries, tanks, ships and robots, and all the paints, brushes and glues involved.
Next to the shop counter is a display of a new storytelling device for small children (three years and older). The Toniebox is the audio player (you plug it in to charge it up), and it comes with little figures which the child then inserts into the box to play stories, such as The Gruffalo, or songs and other pre-recorded material. The starter kit comes with a blank ‘Creative Tonie’ so the purchaser can record his or her own items. This means that a working parent, for example, who can’t be home in time, can still read a bedtime story.
Harvey says that hobby shops are a dying breed: ‘It’s so easy to buy anything you need on the internet.’ ‘However’, he adds, ‘with the internet you have to know what you want, whereas you can just wander in here. People come from miles around.’ They come in to browse, to buy and also for advice, help and rescue. ‘I can’t always rescue, but I try.’
The Hobby Shop
85 Preston Street
Open Tuesday to Saturday from 9.30 to 5pm
Tel: 01795 531666
Words: Sarah Langton-Lockton. Photographs: Neil Brown