With Homebuilding Off, Contractor Toys With Side Business

Hampstead Hobbies Targets The Young At Heart

June 23, 1991|By Anne Haddad | Anne Haddad,Staff writer

HAMPSTEAD — A lull in new home construction led Sean Livingston from working backhoes to handling much smaller equipment in the hobby store he openedat 1302-4 Main St.

Inside Hampstead Hobbies are miniature cars, trains, steam-operated tractors, robots that can interface with home computers, science kits and models of everything from a dragonfly to aPatriot missile.

While some of the more intricate items cost a few hundred dollars, toys such as spin tops and balsa wood airplanes are well within reach of a 10-year-old's allowance.

"It's a boys' toy store," admits Livingston, 37. But he said a lot of girls come in the store also. "You'd be surprised how many girls will put model airplanes together."

Adults also come in without even pretending they're buying something for a child.

Livingston opened Hampstead Hobbies May 1 as a second business, while continuing his other one, Phoenix Excavating.

Phoenix has three employees, but the hobby store is a one-man operation.

Livingston said he has no problem maintaining both businesses.

"It's pretty easy -- not too many new homes going up now," he said.

Business at the hobby store is a bit slow so far also, and Livingston doesn't plan on ditching the excavation business. Eventually, construction will begin again, he said.

"There is lots of money inexcavating, and I have all that equipment, so I'm going to keep it,"he said.

But after two knee-replacement surgeries, Livingston said he wanted another way to make money that didn't require such wear and tear on his body. He considered other businesses before settling on a hobby store in Hampstead, using money he had saved.

"These areall the hobbies I played with as a little kid," Livingston said.

His favorites were any kind of airplane, especially remote-control ones.

"I liked just putting something together and making it work."

He picked Hampstead as his shop's location, even though he lives in Reisterstown.

"I just like Hampstead," he said. "I probably would do better somewhere else, because you're looking for a large population to grow. But this business will do all right here."

He said there are few hobby shops in the region, and his major competition is in Timonium in Baltimore County. Many of his customers so far are commuters who pass by his store while commuting between their jobs in Baltimore and homes in Pennsylvania.

Because he anticipated a lot ofcustomers from outside of town, he has invested in a toll-free number. The $20 monthly charge, plus about 17 cents a minute, is very reasonable, he said.

Livingston also counts on word of mouth among members of model and remote-control clubs in the Baltimore area. Schools, Scout groups and even church schools also order his science and other educational kits, such as anatomy models, a fingerprinting kit, and rockets.

While he thought his model airplanes would be the biggest sellers, Livingston was surprised to find rockets to be the store's fastest-moving items.

"These rockets are incredibly popular," hesaid, pointing to a $24.99 starter kit modeled after the Patriot missile used in the Persian Gulf.

He said he sees the popularity of all his traditionally male-oriented toys crossing gender lines.

"Some of the girls are just as excited about the rockets as the boys are," he said.

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