Few businesses make me think of how New York used to be, and what it's lost in the last 15 years, than hobby stores. What sane person today would try to open a hobby shop in New York today? Such businesses of minimal profitability and marginal necessity—once an option in the City's economic universe—are virtual impossibilities in the ruthless world of today where the only indy businesses that can possibly survive are high-end bars, restaurants, bakeries, boutiques and other enterprises connected to status-driven immediate gratification. There's no such thing as an artisanal hobby store. Hobby stores are incurably uncool in today's world, even if they feed an important need in humans to find an interest or skill in which they can excel in a small way and take their minds off the infinite cares of the day.
The owners of the few remaining hobby shops in the five boroughs have nothing but my admiration. It must be a hard slog. But if they can still excite even a small proportion of the City's kid population that hasn't become inextricably addicted to video games, God bless them.
Rudy's Hobby Supplies in Astoria looks quite old. And it is, sort of. The store was founded at this address in 1939, but it was called Rudy's Confectionary. It was an ice-cream parlor—another kind of shop that tickles kids. The owner was Rudy Oest. It went on that way for nearly a half century.
By the late 80s, ice cream wasn't as big a sell as it had been. So Marvin Cochran, a model-train collector, who had married Rudy's daughter Teresa and inherited the space (which he owns) in 1964, turned it into a hobby store in 1993. He started selling model trains and went on from there. When a nearby art supply store shuttered, Rudy's began selling art supplies. It did the same thing when a neighboring store selling religious artifacts disappeared. All this made Rudy's, in the words of a recent Times profile, a "one of a kind" place.
It won't last. Cochran is in his mid-70s. "This isn’t really something you do to make a living anymore – I’m doing it to keep myself occupied as much as anything," Cochran said in a 2011 article. "I’m able to pay my bills with the business. I own the space; otherwise I wouldn’t be able to afford the rent here. We have no reason to sell it, it’s carrying its own weight."