A discursive look at Napoleonic & ECW wargaming, plus a load of old Hooptedoodle on this & that

Sunday, 26 December 2010

Hooptedoodle #12 - Gift & Hobby Shops

Foy's Eighth Law is:

It is a bold move to attempt to turn your hobby into your job; the chances of making a successful living are usually much less than you think, and the chances of retaining any fondness for the hobby are about one in ten.

I live near a small seaside town which is full of the sort of shops which you would expect. Coffee places, florists, art & craft emporia, and an unbelievable number of gift shops. There's always a new one being opened, complete with free sherry for visitors, and some of them are lovely, but reality will normally arrive quite soon, and many of them close within a year.

To a large extent (as always, given the chance) I place a lot of the blame with the banks. There is a certain type of what used to be termed Middle Class Person - mostly ladies - who have always wanted to open a gift shop. The banks should put more effort into pointing out a few things before helping them to set up, viz:

(1) There are 3 other, identical shops already, within 50 metres.

(2) These shops will make very nice money, thank you, during the Summer, when all the visitors come, but will really catch a cold during the long, quiet Winters.

(3) There is a limit to the number of agate bracelets the locals will want. Local residents - especially the ones with money - tend to work in the nearest city, and mostly do their shopping there.

(4) When the novelty wears off and the sherry runs out, the gift shop will cut back to 10-4 opening, then 4 day opening, then only opening when they can be bothered, and eventually the "Lease for Sale" will appear.

Now this is all very sad. It would be a fine thing if people's dreams worked out, and on a rare occasion one such business will in fact do very well, but in most cases they fizzle out, leaving the proprietors short on cash and, I imagine, discouraged. The predictability of the entire life cycle can't offer much solace, either. Do these ladies learn anything? Is that the end of their interest in gift shops?

The specific example I was thinking about the other day was a hobby shop in Edinburgh which I used to patronise around 1970. The owner was rather a grumpy soul, but occasionally he would open up a bit and chat. It was another sad tale. As a child, he had been a passionate builder of balsa wood aeroplanes, and his (very expensive) private education had foundered hopelessly on the fact that the only thing in the world he was interested in was making models. Eventually he left school, and became an architectural model maker - he worked for an organisation that did commissions, building models of proposed shopping centres and so on. This went fairly well, and he rather enjoyed his job, which didn't pay much, until one day he inherited the family money, and set up the model and hobby shop he had always wanted.

By the time I knew him, the shop had been open about 12 years, and he hated it. Initially it had been fine - there were long quiet periods during the day when he could get on with his own interests (mostly working model steam engines when I knew him), but he would continually be interrupted by - well, customers, I guess. He said to me, "Some fat bloke with a squeaky voice will come in and bend my ear all afternoon about the exact shade of cream paint for LMS railway carriages, and - frankly - I couldn't care less!". He had some health problems, and eventually sold up to concentrate on his new hobby, which was making furniture.

OK - another tale of frustration and disappointment - but what had he expected it would be like when he started? Maybe we all change with the years, maybe enthusiasm is a sap which dries up. His problem, I suspect was partly that he didn't very much care for people who were a bit like himself (common enough), and that much of the pleasure went out of running the shop when he was relying on it for his livelihood.

To all those who have made a success of making money from their hobby, I offer my compliments and my best wishes - good on you. My earlier post about Moonbeams was an attempt to give appropriate credit to the dreamers and the crackpots who have made wargaming possible as a hobby - we owe these people a great deal, but I still believe that most such ventures fail, sadly.


  1. Hi Tony,

    I enjoyed reading that post and can understand totally what you mean. Sounds like we live in very similar places as our little village High Street has 2 seaside Gift Shops and there was a third that closed down last year! Each spring any empty units are snapped up and quickly turned into either tea rooms or food outlets etc with great enthusiasm but rarely survive outside of the tourist season. The money here is made mostly in old fashioned buckets and spades, inflatables, ice creams etc, some things never change! One guy who does make a reasonable living is Tom our 'Donkey man' (as he is generally known).... his rides on the beach are always popular and he's been doing it for 20 years as a full time business.

    More to the point, I used to be a regular customer of Bill Brewer who owned the old Rye Stamp and Hobby shop in Peckham Rye. He often appeared in the wargame magazines as he was a very talented painter. He was always busy painting and would often grunt at you without even looking up when you entered the shop. I recall he found younger children frustrating as they would have him pulling out box after box of figures to look at and end up buying just one or two! He would go quite red in the face and mumble under his breath as he disappeared back into his little stock room to pull out the next box. He must have seemed quite intimidating given his customer service skills, but I grew to like his mildly eccentric ways. He was a brilliant painter of figures.

    I always find your posts thought provoking Tony, look forward to more in the year ahead.


  2. Thanks Lee - appreciated! I sincerely hope that Tom the Donkey Man is so called because he hires out donkeys!

    Best regards - have a good New Year