Window Shopping: Robbie's Hobbies

Staff Writer
Columbus Alive

Trains aren't as timeless as they might seem.

These days, they're powered by wireless remotes and come with bells, whistles and chimes.

At Robbie's Hobbies, owner Rob Rosati has built elaborate train-track displays - one as you enter the front door and two others in the far corner - to both inspire and entertain his customers.

At the first, Rosati demos the latest in model-train power controllers: wireless master remotes that can be programmed to control multiple tracks and adjust the speeds and sound effects of each train.

"It used to be just plug-and-play. It was pressurized - when a train came to a gate, the pressure of it would operate the gate," Rosati said. "Now you do it all electronically."

The Clintonville shop is packed with shelves of boxes and bins holding everything from big toy diggers to tiny tools for building train sets.

Robbie's Hobbies specializes in model trains of every size and from many makers, Lionel being the most well-known. The shop carries everything needed to build a train setup at home, from boxed starter kits to individual pieces of track sorted by size and shape.

In fact, the majority of the merchandise filling the store's shelves is train-related, from pink-and-blue-striped conductor's hats to tiny, hand-painted people and bags of mossy imitation shrubbery for making a train town come to life.

Other shelves hold 60-year-old issues of Model Railroader magazine for 50 cents apiece and wooden train Christmas ornaments. Often, there's only one of any particular item in stock.

That's because Rosati gets a lot of his merchandise from his customers, who will throw in "extras" when they sell him their old train sets. Lots of people clean out their attics and bring whole boxes for him to take off their hands, he said. And that's why he branched into selling toys like Austin Powers action figures, Star Wars figurines, new and used Hot Wheels cars and Thomas the Tank Engine sets.

Slot cars that race along plastic tracks are also popular, Rosati said, and he keeps plenty of pre-painted die-cast model cars in stock. He also sells collector's pieces and various items he takes in from customers on his eBay site, an outlet for things he knows he won't sell in Columbus - and a source of much-needed extra income.

"I sell a lot of this stuff to people online," Rosati said, "and that's the only way we're surviving as a hobby store today."

Robbie's Hobbies

4578 N. High St., Clintonville