Before X-Box, Play Station and Nintendo, or even Transformers and Masters of the Universe, there was Rudy’s Hobby Shop on Astoria’s 30th Avenue, a place of low-tech thrills for kids: train sets, car tracks and model kits.
Nowadays, owner Marvin “Rudy” Cochran says most customers are men —those kids who never gave up modeling, and who spend hours sourcing the right train trestle or action figure.
“Kids today are all about technology,” said Cochran, 73. “When you tell them they have to glue and paint, they’re out of here.”
Cochran has been in his spot for some 50 years, first as proprietor of a fountain shop (you can still see the faint footprint of the counter stools on the floor), which he and his wife operated. After 25 years, he traded egg creams and sundaes for planes, trains and automobiles.
His wife retired from the business, but Cochran runs the shop four days a week to sell these toys of patience. It’s a set-up Luddites would love: cash-only, no website or digital displays. Model planes dangle from the ceiling, suspended in flight. Price tags are still clicked out with a hand-held sticker gun, and the shelves are stacked high with all sorts of model sets, related accessories, jigsaw puzzles, art supplies and, more recently, religious items.
Maspeth resident Fred Matthews, 64, picked up a set of military action figures for $15, which he said he’ll modify for his war diorama, housed in a six-shelf cabinet. He estimates he’s been coming to Rudy’s shop for 30 years, spending more than $5,000 on his pastime.
“It’s hard to find certain things. Hobby shops are not what they used to be,” Matthews said.
Modeling may be a dying art for some, but for others, it helps with the art of living.
Customer Brenda Bennett, 45, a therapist from Brooklyn, perused shelves for more than an hour with Cochran before deciding on items that she says illustrate “good citizenship and family values.” She paid $70 for a church, a school, a house and a police precinct (the latter representing a place not to end up).
“It all came together in the shop,” she said. “This will help teach them patience and rules for cooperation and orderly living—even in a city.”
By the numbers
Square feet: 1,200
Number of items: 4,000-5,000
Price of a balsa wood glider: $6.29
Price of a Santa Maria ship model: $215
Highest-priced item: $350