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Niche Market | Model Cars, Planes & Trains

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

The hobby shop mechanic, Camilo Aguiar Velez. (Sarah Kate Kramer/WNYC)

New York is a city of specialists from foodies to academics, laborers to shopkeepers. Every Wednesday, Niche Market takes a peek inside a different specialty store and showcases the city's purists who have made an art out of selling one commodity.

105 Hobbies
10440 Jamaica Ave
NY 11418

The high-pitched buzz of remote-controlled miniature race cars racing up to 60 mph down Jamaica Avenue competed with the rumble of the elevated J train in Richmond Hill, Queens on a recent afternoon. The car — making hairpin turns and occasionally flipping off the curb — was controlled by a customer of 105 Hobbies, a hobby shop and veritable neighborhood clubhouse.

This hobby shop — also known as Die Cast Collectibles from the days when it sold mostly die cast toy cars — has airplane graphics on the old store sign that date from at least 1964, when the father of current owner Peter Cernauskas moved the shop from Ridgewood.

The elder Cernauskas was an airplane and transit mechanic who fixed New York City buses for work and built model planes and cars as a hobby before he made it his business.

Peter, the current owner, grew up in the shop.

"Made my own scooters, roller skates, the whole deal. I didn't need no stinking skateboard, I made my own," he said on a recent afternoon, wearing the company uniform — a T-Shirt with the motto "Still plays with cars."

The 1,200-square-foot store retails remote-controlled vehicles, die-cast collectibles, electric slot cars and extensive model building materials.

"It's a thrill — the sound of the engines, the fun of controlling the plane by yourself; it's just something I love," said customer John Kelly, 64, who builds and flies control line planes at Flushing Meadow Park. "Build your own planes, fly your own planes, sometimes crash your own planes and rebuild your own planes."

But Cernauskas, the owner, said customers like Kelly who build from scrap are in the minority — most purchase fully constructed cars and bring them in for service: "They're willing to pay for instant gratification," he said.

Electric cars can run $150, but some spend thousands outfitting dream cars.

Hobby shop mechanic Camilo Aguiar Velez, 38, said he spent about $30,000 on his hobby over the years and races cars every Sunday at a track in Floyd Bennett Field. 

"It's something you work the whole week, and you want to be there, just hang out with the guys," he said. "I like it more than video games, and I love video games."

Most customers are older, but 13-year-old Joe Sperrazza is into the hobby and recently brought in a gas car (many vehicles take fuel, and can weigh up to 40 lbs) for repair: "I tried everything. I loosened it, I tightened it, and it worked for awhile and then it stopped working," he told the mechanic, who promised to fix it, as he has, many many times.

"This car gets a lot of use, and abuse," Aguilar noted.

Mechanic Camilo Aguiar Velez sitting outside 105 Hobbies in Richmond Hill, Queens. (Photo: Sarah Kate Kramer)

How are these cars similar, and how are they different from real cars?

They have four wheels, a motor. You can turn 'em, stop 'em. Some of 'em go in reverse. They're just smaller.  A lot faster.

Why is this called a hobby shop?

People used to have spare time and they would be looking for hobbies. Now there's no such thing as a hobby because there's no spare time, that's about it.

What hooks people into model cars?

It's fun. It's challenging. Competition — they race on weekends, and it's like any other competitive thing, when you get the bug, there's no end. They spend money like crazy to win.

Do you think hobby shops are a dying industry?

It depends. What they allow these people to do with these gas cars, I think eventually they're going to put a stop to it, because it's kind of dangerous, and you know how they like to make laws. I thought they were going to put a stop to it a while ago, but they're still going strong.

How has the business changed over time?

Kids are into video games so kids don't build models anymore like we used to build models. We used to build plastic models, airplane models. Kids now play video games. They build models on the computer. That's what they do. Then when they come in here they want their mother or father to buy them something. They want it ready to run. They want to start it up, and drive it out. They don't want to know anything, except for a few kids, but basically that's the story. Even with adults, nobody wants to build anymore, nobody has time, nobody has time for a hobby, they want instant gratification, that's what it's about. They're willing to pay for instant gratification.

Sarah Kate Kramer/WNYC
Peter Cernauskas, owner of 105 Hobbies.
Sarah Kate Kramer/WNYC
The hobby shop mechanic, Camilo Aguiar Velez.
Sarah Kate Kramer/WNYC
Sarah Kate Kramer/WNYC
Michael Murray grew up in Richmond Hill and stops by the hobby shop ever day.
Sarah Kate Kramer/WNYC
Sarah Kate Kramer/WNYC
Some of the small parts cost as little as 10 cents.
Sarah Kate Kramer/WNYC
The testing ground in the backyard of 105 Hobbies.
Sarah Kate Kramer/WNYC
Sarah Kate Kramer/WNYC
John Kelly checks out a gas car.
Sarah Kate Kramer/WNYC
Sarah Kate Kramer/WNYC

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Comments [4]

Mike Tufano from Midlothian, Va.

Oh MY FRIGGIN GOD!! I just stumbled across this article. My dad used to take us there from the mid 60's to the late 70's. It was so wonderful to make the trip from Babylon,L.I. to see "Tiny" at Wilson's Hobbies and to visit my grandfather in Richmond Hill. He would always give us a GREAT deal, smoking his big ass cigars!!! That pic of the inside gave me goose bumps. I knew what it was when I saw the store front pic, amazing how such great memories are ingrained into our minds. We flew control line at Flushing Meadows, Forrest Park, N.J.,'76 Nats. I STILL have my Nobler w/O.S.35 and fast combat w/Supertigre.35/Fox Combatspecial.35 both built in the '70's all bought from "Tinies". You can see the Nobler from 1978 video at 1:48 to 2:01 Minutes, white with arrow stripes.
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0lzJVyz7acs&list=PLB268FD631F3775CB&index=10
I live in Va. and next time up I'm stopping by. WOW that's incredible that you are still there!! Hope you have continued sucess!!! This is in my favorites.
Mike Tufano

Feb. 12 2013 10:12 PM
Bill

Marc from Chelsea.... try Google buddy:

105 HOBBIES 718-441-7999
104-40 Jamaica Ave, Richmond Hill
NY 11418

Aug. 12 2011 09:16 AM
Fred Strauss from NYC,Forest Hills, and Lynbrook

I first went there when I was 10 or 11 and Pete's father "Tiny" (he was not) ran the shop. It had a slot car track and a regular racing program on Friday nights. Many times it was so crowded with racers that we waited outside for our turn to participate in the racing. It was a formative time of life with many friend's made. I have been back a number of times over the years (I am now 58) and Pete and I still sort of recognize one another from the old slot racing days. pete was one of the best.
I would ride my bike there and wait for Tiny to open at 4 on a weekday afternoon and became friends with him, a tough old man, but still a helpful mentor. I have often told stories of those old days at the shop and had taken my two children there to buy hobby supplies when they were younger just out of loyalty to the great service and old memories.
I am sure a lot is the same today for any interested hobbyist
I will have to stop in again

Aug. 10 2011 07:19 PM
Marc from Chelsea

Anyone know the phone number of 105 Hobbies in Richmond Hills, NY? Would love to pay them a visit but want to confirm hours before I send out there.

Thanks.

Aug. 10 2011 07:01 PM

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