Dannie and Opal Slavin have owned and operated the Family Hobby Center in Naples, Florida since 1965. They got their start after buying up the inventory of a former Naples hobby store, and haven’t looked back since. The Hobby Center means everything to them, and for years they’ve put the store’s profits back into the business. “You can make more money selling stuff than you can working with your hands,” says Opal Slavin, 87.
More than just a source of income, hobbies are both a passion and a pastime for the Slavin family. Carey Slavin, 56, is also a part of the business. He started flying model planes with his dad at the age of four. There are currently two generations of ownership, and a third one is on the way, with Carey’s daughter Amy, 31, working full-time in the store and preparing to eventually take over. Needless to say, this is the kind of experience that can’t be duplicated in a chain store, and the Slavins’ knowledge of the products keeps this independent store competitive with online and chain retailers.
But more than just other hobby stores, shops like Family Hobby are also competing with other places that sell similar products, including the ever growing world of online and video gaming. “The kids just aren’t doing hobby related activities, not like they used to,” says the chairman of the National Retail Hobby Stores Association, Art Schaefer. At the time Schaefer first became a part of the association in 2006, there were more than 300 members. Now, that number has dropped by a third. A third generation hobby shop owner himself, Schaefer predicts the association may see those numbers go up again as the baby boomer generation moves into retirement. “Those guys and gals were the greatest hobbyists of all time. Everybody had model trains; everybody built models back then,” he says. “As those people retire, a lot of them will go back to what they did in their childhood.”
Opal and Dannie Slavin started their business 45 years ago on inventory worth $500. Today, the store contains between $300,000 and $400,000 worth of merchandise. In fact, one week’s shipment alone is sometimes about ten times larger than what the store opened with in 1965. That inventory isn’t just restricted to model helicopters, planes, trains, cars and boats, but also includes beads, ribbons, wood, glue, paint and just about anything else a crafter would need.