SAN JOSE -- A beloved South Bay hobby store shuttered this winter has been revived to continue a family legacy and the tradition of building model airplanes and trains in an age where many kids would prefer to play video games.

The new D&J Hobby is every bit as full of passion for hobbies as its predecessor. Staff and customers talk animatedly about the intricacies of a radio-controlled helicopter or search for the perfect shade of yellow paint to touch up a Matchbox car.

Victor Gomez was at the store last month shopping for paint supplies for his 17-year-old son. For many parents, hobby shops offer their kids alternatives to video games and Facebook.

"He just spends so much time in front of the TV that anytime his mind is occupied by something else, I feel better," Gomez said.

Like many shoppers in the store, Gomez, of San Jose, has been a D&J customer for more than a decade. The original D&J Hobby and Crafts, a South Bay institution, closed in February, ending a 42-year run as the go-to place for hobbyists and marking a somber conclusion to a struggling family business. The double whammy of the recession and proliferation of big-box stores selling cheaper hobby supplies seemed to spell the end of one of the Bay Area's longest-running independent hobby shops.


Advertisement

But hobby lovers were not without a store for very long. Jason Pozzi, the youngest son of D&J Hobby founders Darrell and Janet Pozzi, opened the new store March 8. He wanted to wait longer, he said, but customers were impatient; independent hobby shops are hard to find, and D&J patrons come from as far away as Marin County and Monterey.

"We've created what hobbies mean to people because we've been here so long," Pozzi said.

Pozzi will hold a grand opening April 19, after he has time to clean up a bit and fully stock the shelves. The new store is smaller and has less inventory but is in the high-traffic West Valley Shopping Center at Prospect and Saratoga roads, opposite Westgate Mall and Paseo de Saratoga.

"Being somewhere fresh and new with a change in perspective is going to help us a lot, and I have a lot of faith going forward," Pozzi said.

Pozzi said he took a gamble when he sank his life's savings into D&J Hobby, but the risk is worth it. Hobby shops can be a community learning hub unlike any school; they introduce kids to engineering skills that can blossom into careers in auto design or architecture, and adults to new passions and pastimes.

"You come in and find yourself in a hobby shop," Pozzi said. "It complements so many different facets of people's lives."

Carl Watkinson's model plane-building hobby is part history lesson and part tribute to his father. Watkinson is building every plane in the Royal Air Force 14th squadron in which his father served during World War II. Watkinson, of Pleasant Hill, was in D&J to buy his eighth airplane in the set; he has another 19 left to build.

"This is going to be a four- or five-year project," he said last month at the new D&J. He gives them to his dad, now 82, when he visits the U.K.

For Pozzi, 35, the new store is as much a mission driven by his sense of family obligation and pride as it his love of hobbies. By the time it closed, the old D&J was in sorry shape. The Campbell strip mall that housed the store had deteriorated and the store hadn't been updated in years. Pozzi said business slowed after the landlord removed the store sign a few years ago, and never fully recovered after being pummeled in the recession.

"I've learned so much from my dad, from being there and then keeping him afloat for those last couple years," he said. "I wish I could have turned it around for him."

It's been tough going for independent hobby shops, which, much like independent bookstores, have been squeezed out by national chains. Toys R Us, Michaels Arts & Crafts and Jo-Ann crafts store together occupy about 83 percent of the $17 billion industry, according to research firm IBISWorld. The recession triggered a dramatic slowdown in toys and hobby spending, and more than 2,600 stores closed between 2007 and 2012.

"They're vanishing," said Fred Hill, president of the Hobby Manufacturing Association. "The market itself is shrinking."

Big-box stores like Walmart and Target pose a threat to the small shops because they sell hobby items cheaper and have a wider customer base, according to experts at IBISWorld.

"Hobby shops are not like a convenience store or liquor store or drugstore," said Hill, who manufactures model trains and owns two hobby stores in Southern California. "We have very limited appeal."

But independent hobby stores say they offer what no Walmart or Target can -- a place for hobbyists to go not just to buy a model rocket or plane, but also learn the best way to fix it when it breaks and upgrade it with a new paint job. Hobby stores also organize radio-controlled car races, hobby classes and competitive robotics teams.

"You get that nurturing support," Pozzi said. "That's what a hobby store is about."

Contact Heather Somerville at 925-977-8418. Follow her at Twitter.com/heathersomervil.