Tuesday, 2 February 2010

Your 'local' model shop

For me this is a bit of a contradiction in terms. My local model shop was closed down about five years ago after serving a community of modellers and hobbyists for sixty years. I even worked there from time to time, and it was always a pleasure.

The manager was gifted when it came to model railways - there was nothing a customer could ask him he didn't know the answer to, and I developed a side interest in railways as a result.

These days, my local model shop is ten miles away, and its real reason for being is radio controlled cars and bikes, with a little railways and kit stuff on the side. I can get my paint, brushes and airbrush cleaner there, so that's great.

But if I want to have a good look at the plastic itself, that's eighteen miles in the other direction. There's a sort of modeller's supermarket - enormous premises and a vast stock of pretty much everything, but because of my workload I only get to go every year or so! This leaves me with the modeller's main option - online. Plenty of choice here, and convenience too, no question.

But what you don't get at the end of your keyboard is a sense of atmosphere. There's no virtual substitute for an hour spent wandering around, talking to the staff who remember you from last time and know your interests. There's no chance of bumping into a fellow sufferer and sharing an experience. You can't root in the box or check the paint chart. Even handing over your goods and getting your wallet out could be a pleasure in the bricks-and-mortar shop. It was a place of rendezvous, a way of staying in touch, being part of the modelling community, and it gave this daft hobby some meaning. Without the hands-on aspect, many new modellers are being lost to the hobby right when their interest may be burgeoning. The internet has taken this from most of us - it made my own shop an expensive indulgence instead of a paying business - and the price of it is anonymity and building in a vacuum. I now rely on emails and photos from my clients and fellow builders for contact, and whilst I have made some good friends, it's not quite the same as a chat and a brew over the counter.

Just last week I had to make a run for some airbrush cleaner and paint, so it was up the by-pass to the closest shop. Whilst in there I noticed the new Airfix Mosquito in 1/24 scale. I asked the chap behind the desk if he'd had much feedback on it. 'Nothing' he replied. and got on with his paperwork. 'Only been out since Christmas'. Had that been me in my shop, I'd be offering to get it down and give him a poke in the box, and we'd have had a chat about what was in the mags about it. I was the only customer in the shop, but seemingly not worth the time for a bit of back and forth. I left him to get on with his admin, and look forward to a life on line.

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