September 1, 2008

Get the Personal Touch, Expertise at Hobby World

With Wal-Mart and Target stores in practically every American town and Internet shopping available to anyone with a computer and a credit card, it's easy to assume independent hobby stores have been driven to extinction.

A few minutes inside Grayslake Hobby World will dispel that rash presumption.

One side of the store at 140 Center St. is filled with model trains, cars, airplanes and other vehicles - as well as any imaginable part, tool or material you'd need for the hobby.

Looking for a scale model of the doomed World War II cruiser the U.S.S. Indianapolis? How about a Cylon baseship from "Battlestar Galactica," special paints and brushes or balsa wood for homemade crafts?

Grayslake Hobby World has them.

"A lot of this stuff you can't actually get at Wal-Mart," owner Rich Swartz says. "You can get the cheap stuff (there). But if you want the good stuff, you go to a hobby shop."

The other side of Grayslake Hobby World is dedicated to bicycles, and not just a few models and colors. It's loaded with bikes, helmets, tools, replacement parts and countless accessories.

Bicycles for young children are at the front of the store. Kids can't resist climbing on and dinging a bell, and the 43-year-old Swartz doesn't discourage the puckish behavior.

When it comes to bikes, Swartz of Round Lake, takes great pride in his handiwork. He promises every two-wheeler is perfectly assembled before it leaves the shop.

"When you come here, you're buying a better bike," he says. "I have bikes that come in here all the time that are from (big-box stores) and are assembled wrong. It's very common."

Swartz opened Grayslake Hobby World in 2001 after working for his family's automotive-parts manufacturing business in Chicago.

A longtime hobby enthusiast who particularly liked radio- controlled cars and airplanes as a kid, the hobby shop seems like a good fit for him.

The store sells and repairs bikes, too, because of Swartz's ability with a tool set.

"I've always been good at fixing bikes," he says.

Swartz is assisted by three or four employees, depending on the season and customer level. His son, Riley, helps out during the summer.

Customer Roger Cox appreciates Swartz's approach. The 71-year- old Wildwood resident came in recently with a bicycle tire that had a broken spoke, and Swartz fixed it on the spot.

Good thing, too: Cox needed the bike the next day for a trip to Florida.

Cox says he prefers shopping at independent stores like Hobby World.

" (They're) much more personal and friendly," he explains.

Swartz values that sentiment. Taking care of his customers is key.

After all, Swartz explains, a happy customer may tell one person about a good experience in a store - but an unhappy shopper will tell 10.

"That's just my philosophy," he says. "So far, so good."

- Russell Lissau

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