The End of an Era - Hobby Lobby Building Torn Down

The building that so many of us bought our hobby goods from is gone for good.

Splash

A Sad Day for the RC Hobby

I found out through the grapevine that they were tearing down the original Hobby Lobby building in the next few days. That's a sad thing to think about for many of us in the RC hobby. I thought I would take this time to write some recollections of that place as a former HL employee and prior to that a customer.

Some Hobby Lobby History

Hobby Lobby was founded by Jim Martin in 1964. It had humble beginnings in the back of his store in Nashville. He built the Hobby Lobby building in Brentwood, TN in 1970. At the time it was a piece of cheap farm land.

Prior to starting HL Jim flew refueling tankers for the Air Force. He always had an RC plane ready to fly and most of the time that plane was a glider. Jim loved flight and Hobby Lobby was the culmination of that love.

What I'm about to say is a bold statement, but I believe it's true. Hobby Lobby is the reason our hobby is electrified. Jim Martin saw what was happening in RC in Europe around 1967 and how they were using electric motors instead of glow. When he came home he embraced electric flight and soon the Hobby Lobby catalog was full of electric power plants. The key word in those days to describe the power was "anemic" but as power systems improved things changed. HL was the first company to list "Everything you need" with each plane so you knew what to buy. Prior to this the US hobby shops were all glow and gas. Jim Martin endeavored to persevere with his crazy electric power sources and by doing so he changed the hobby forever. The big boys took notice after a while and now the majority of of RC planes are electric. It was not so before Hobby Lobby.

What the Building Meant

That building meant a lot of things to a lot of people. Everything in our catalog was there. RC pilots across the US would pour over the HL magazine. When they hired me I had it memorized! When you finally figured out how to get to the building there would be a certain excitement. You were excited because you knew all the things you needed, and more importantly, the things you wanted, were inside. There was always someone on the counter that had an intimate knowledge of the batteries, motors, ESCs and planes that hung on the wall. For an RC pilot it was a special place. For the folks that worked there it was a home where your RC family lived.

In reality the building was not fancy. It was the people and activity that made it special. You could tell who were the real RC nuts at the shop when the UPS truck showed up. We knew in those boxes were planes that no one had ever seen before. Prototypes that were the first of their kind. We would all gather around the boxes as Mike Hines would open them with the skill of a surgeon. Then when he finally withdrew the treasures that were inside you would hear slight gasps of awe and words of praise for the designers. It was an RC pilots dream job.

Where I Got My Start

I'm pretty close to this topic because Hobby Lobby is where I got my start. I was just a guy that stick built RC planes and documented what I did on web forums. Evidently Jim followed my posts because one day a stately gentleman with a white beard approached me at our local field. He said he read my posts and hoped one day I could work for him at Hobby Lobby. I'm glad I went flying that day. Running into Jim Martin changed my life.

Soon I was the marketing person for Hobby Lobby. I handled all online ads, contests, reviews and print. We had this new product called a "lipo" battery and these new motors called "outrunners." Little did any of us know at HL we were about to revolutionize the hobby. It was an exciting time! We were also one of the first companies to see the value in online advertising. We put ad money into this little site called "RCGroups.com." We changed our banner ads every week. We ran huge online sales. We went to events and took photos. The marketing was changing and HL was right there at the leading edge. I use the skill sets I learned at Hobby Lobby every day as the admin of multiple RC forums today.

Hanging with Jim Martin

As the marketing person I spent a good deal of time talking to Jim Martin. As he would talk to me about the topic of the day my eye always ended up on the photo of the T-28 that Jim flew in the Air Force. The plane was in the middle of a refueling during a flight. There was also a photo of Jim with all his Air Force buddies in front of that plane in 1956. It just blew my mind that was the same person sitting in front of me explaining why I should not use exclamation points (it's like laughing at your own joke)!

Jim taught me lessons that I use to this day. Hobby Lobby was my first job in the RC industry and I'm certain it paved the way for what has turned into a career in radio control . I have that chance meeting and interest from Jim Martin to thank for that.

Working at HL

A couple of days a week we would all get together and head out for lunch. This was my first real office job and I have to say I couldn't have been surrounded by better folks. It was truly a family. If you had a birthday you knew there would be a cake for you at lunch and that everyone would meet in the warehouse to eat cake and celebrate.

Funny Side Stories

For years I wondered about a piece of metal on one of the walls. You see there was a buck shot pattern in it from a shotgun. The thing was the blast obviously came from the inside! I finally asked Jim Martin how that came to be there. He said there was a bird trapped in the building and he asked a worker to get it out. When he came back the bird was gone but the shotgun blast was there. It turns out his employee was in the building shooting at the bird with a .12 gauge! Jim Martin was not happy!

If you are an RC old timer you surely remember the Senior Telemaster produced by Hobby Lobby. The image on the box and in magazines was of the plane in a field with a lovely lady leaning next to it. A beautiful site. One day I was in the warehouse next to that box when Jim's wife walked up. As she spoke to me I looked at her and then glanced at the box. Then I realized...the girl on the box was Jim's wife JoAnne!! When I verbalized my realization she whacked me on the shoulder and told me not to tell anyone!

Girls coming into Hobby Lobby was a very rare occurrence. So rare that sometimes shipping guys and salesman might come out of the dark corners of the warehouse to behold the strange event. One thing was certain though, we all knew they were there by accident. We would tell them how to get to the Hobby Lobby craft store and off they would go, until the next lost lady showed up.

As the marketing person I was always on RCGroups. When users started cutting their own foamy planes I was intrigued. Then the foamy 3D planes started showing up. I tried and tried to get HL to sell these foamy 3D birds. I flew .40 balsa profile planes at the time and I vividly remember when Jim Martin approached me and said, "What you're doing in the air isn't flight, it's a travesty!" It still brings a smile to my face. We finally released the 3D Gee Bee by Mike Glass and it became a number one seller. Then we released more and the 3D foamy was born.

From Jason Cole

That building was my second home for almost 10 years. It was my first "real" job and I made so many friends and memories during that time. I remember flying Piccolo helis in the warehouse when electric helis barely flew. I remember test flying prototype airplanes in the narrow parking lot. I'll never forget the photo room where Mike Hines and Max Wensell took all the product photos for the catalog and website and the R&D room next to it where I spent time building planes. That building is an iconic piece of r/c history and it's a sad day to see it being torn down.

Sad Day

It's a sad day in the hobby to look at that photo and know the building, the fun, and the people have been disassembled and scattered to the winds. Ashes to ashes and dust to dust I guess. We all still keep in touch. We even have lunch sometimes at the same restaurant we used to frequent. With Facebook we can still interact but the days of the "Lobby" are gone forever. That place meant so much to so many in this hobby.

JoAnne Martin Sums it Up

I worked at HL for 40 years, met and married my husband there, and absolutely loved my job! My husband was the owner and the employees were my family! I watched both flourish and succeed! I still have my husband and I still have my family! Maybe the business and building are gone but memories will never go! I am happy knowing that my family loved it there and have moved on as "kids" will do. I think no one will ever forget their days at Hobby Lobby!

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Jul 30, 2015, 11:06 AM
Wandering IT geek
ronin4740's Avatar
Sad to see. If it weren't for the LHS near where I lived (Mark Twain Hobby in St. Charles MO) I never would have acted on my desire to learn to fly RC airplanes. Never would have gotten the advice (you really ought to by that trainer instead of that P-51 for your first plane!) which let me have a chance of succeeding on my own.

I'm certain that many people local to Hobby Lobby would say the same!

While forums are a great place to share and exchange ideas they just aren't the same as a good Hobby Store with knowledgeable employees for both the beginner as well as the seasoned customer.

Sadly there's just too few brick and mortar stores full of RC excitement and wonder left in the world these days...
Jul 30, 2015, 12:20 PM
What, Me Worry?
edbu1's Avatar
I sure do remember the Hobby Lobby catalogs! Getting a new one in the mail back in the 1970s was real excitement. Remember, this was before the internet existed. information on any R/C airplane came from magazines and catalogs. And other R/C flyers, if you lived near any, which I did not. Spent many of my teenage years drooling over that Hobby Lobby catalog, my book of R/C wishes.

RIP, Hobby Lobby!!
Jul 30, 2015, 01:35 PM
Serenity Now!
jbrundt's Avatar
A sad day.......

I was only able to visit the store 3 times but each time was a wondrous (and expensive ) experience.
Jul 30, 2015, 02:17 PM
MK
MK
Registered User
I never got the chance to get down to TN and step foot in the building but every year that I attended the WRAM show in Westchester, NY, there was Hobby Lobby and the gang in the back just before the stage, with the biggest booth. What a good bunch of people!

And Jim, you are absolutely right! I often tell people that it was Hobby Lobby that started the electric plane phenomenon which we now know is the "standard". The young ones say "Who's Hobby Lobby?" and the old ones remember it well.

To this very day I still have a few copies of the catalog. When I get a new one I would pour over it again and again and again, wishing that I had the money to buy one of each. Those were exciting times.
Jul 30, 2015, 02:32 PM
Blueabyss
I lived in a small town outside of Nashville TN and bought many planes and parts from HL over the years. I now live in florida, can fly all year long. It was sad news hearing HL is gone. I totally agree that HL is responsible for the evolution of electric flight in the US. Many years ago I had a gentle lady glider that I decided to cut the nose off of and retro fit a speed 400 from HL. It ran on a nicad...lol... At that time there were very few electric gliders under 500.00. People would just marvel at my "invention"...lol..

Chris
Jul 30, 2015, 03:05 PM
LJH
LJH
Moths do not fly inverted
LJH's Avatar
That is sad to see, for the better part of 3 decades I looked forward to the old Hobby-Lobby catalog as they were one of the few mail order shops that specialized in gliders and e-power. Sorry to see the old building gone but even more sorry to see what Hobby-Lobby (Hobby Express) has turned into.....I really miss the awesome selection of odd-ball items that the old HL carried while the new Hobby Express reminds me of Hobby Town USA.

Cheers,
Jim
Jul 30, 2015, 03:44 PM
Registered User
E-Challenged's Avatar
Remember the Esskay 400XT outrunners that HL used to sell on specials for around $20. They were a versatile replacement for geared speed 400 brushed motors. The were just right for GWS models, Pat Tritle 40" + w/s lightweight scale models and old Berkeley and Sterling scale models that popped up on Ebay.. I still use these motors and they just keep going like that bunny with the base drum. I think that my first successful electric model was a "Chubby Lady" imported by Hobby Lobby from Czechoslovakia . What a fun little park flier, looked like a cartoon.

I miss a number of great Hobby suppliers from the 60's and later like ACE RC headed by Tom Runge, especially their thick catalogs full of motors, speed controls, NiCad chargers, model Ace kits and especially their Pulse Commander single channel and galloping ghost stuff for 1/4A and 1/2A glow powered models . These were the days before RC Groups and other hobby forums. We had Air Trails and later a number of other great model plane magazines full of tantalizing ads, free plans and build articles , There was also Polk's and Americas Hobby Center.
There were great hobby shops that carried everything you needed to build dream models. Ahhh Yup!
Jul 30, 2015, 03:56 PM
Long-Time Member
James Frolik's Avatar
Quote:
Originally Posted by MK
I often tell people that it was Hobby Lobby that started the electric plane phenomenon which we now know is the "standard".
That is a huge debatable stretch. Read the following...

Quote:
Originally Posted by Blueabyss
I totally agree that HL is responsible for the evolution of electric flight in the US.
This is more accurate: "...in the US."

I remember seeing prehistoric eflight stuff in Hobby Lobby catalogs back in the late 1960s and early 70s when I was just a kid. I hated the noise and stench of gas-powered models my dad flew and I thought electric would be cleaner and quieter. So I was always on the lookout for something electric that would fly. But being a näive kid with no money, I thought a bunch of alkaline batteries and some Tamiya electric motors (early venerable Speed 400/7.2v) would do the trick. Wrong!

What I didn't know then is that a lot of what Hobby Lobby promoted was also in line with German developments — and Astro Motors were soon to be dethroned.

Jim Graham certainly did make "a bold statement" saying that "Hobby Lobby is the reason our hobby is electrified." Maybe in the United States, yes. But not in Germany, France, or even England. In fact, back in the late 80s and throughout the 90s many knowledgeable eflight modelers in the U.S. looked toward Europe, especially in Germany, for the latest product trends because they simply were not available in the U.S. So where was Hobby Lobby? Maybe it had electric models in its early catalogs, but is HL really "the reason our hobby is electrified?" In regards to products from Graupner, Robbe, Multiplex, et.al., Hobby Lobby, as an importer, was incredibly slow on the uptake to electrify the market.

But perhaps we don't have to dispute such points any more. Since the early 2000s everyone has been in the same boat when production in China started taking over. And Hobby Lobby imports a lot of their stuff ... to the United States.
Jul 30, 2015, 04:06 PM
RCG Admin
Jason Cole's Avatar
We should note, that while the building is being torn down, Hobby Lobby now Hobby Express moved out a while ago. They are still in business on the internet at http://www.hobbyexpress.com/


I'll be driving by the building later this evening to pay my last respects.
Jul 30, 2015, 04:42 PM
Registered User
Michael Heer's Avatar
When I think of Hobby Lobby I think of their hourly sales on Black Friday. Got some great items from those sales and missed out on even more due to family activities. I still have those family memories while the planes from those sales are long gone.
Jul 30, 2015, 05:01 PM
Registered User
Captain Dunsel's Avatar
I started shopping at Hobby Lobby around 1976. Other than Indy R/C, they were the only e-mail place to by from. I bought lots of hardware from them, plus the occasional kit, servo, etc.

When we shifted to Electrics (around 1987), Hobby Lobby was the US place to go to for motors, ESC's, etc. It wasn't until we were assigned to Germany that we started occasionally shopping elsewhere for E-bits. Even then, we gave Hobby Lobby first preference when we needed odds & ends

CD
Jul 30, 2015, 06:12 PM
DFS#000178
Rampage's Avatar
So Hobby Lobby is actually gone? I thought they just changed their name to Hobby Express or whatever it is now.

That IS sad...
Jul 30, 2015, 06:22 PM
Registered User
Ken Myers's Avatar
Captain,

Did you mean mail order place, not e-mail?

I checked, and I was buying mail order from Tower Hobbies at that time.
Jul 30, 2015, 06:41 PM
Registered User
Captain Dunsel's Avatar
You're right, Ken, I meant mail-order. As a young Airman, with a brand-new credit card, they were a fantastic resource (except for some of those bulk buys...).
Tower was around, but they weren't as reliable as HL or Indy (especially Indy. Sent them a Las Vegas single stick with a very amaturish soldering job. Indy re-soldered it, at no charge).

Remember Omni Hobbies? They wanted overseas shipping for sending to an APO box. They dropped the surcharge after that.

CD
Last edited by Captain Dunsel; Jul 30, 2015 at 06:51 PM.


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