The Ground Floor: When a hobby grows into a business

HobbyTown opened after previous store closed in Cedar Rapids

A radio controlled or RC airplane is on display at Hobby Town in Cedar Rapids on Saturday, Dec. 17, 2016. The store sells modeling materials and kits for railroads, ships, airplanes, cars and trucks, plus radio-radio controlled vehicles and parts. (Rebecca F. Miller/The Gazette)
A radio controlled or RC airplane is on display at Hobby Town in Cedar Rapids on Saturday, Dec. 17, 2016. The store sells modeling materials and kits for railroads, ships, airplanes, cars and trucks, plus radio-radio controlled vehicles and parts. (Rebecca F. Miller/The Gazette)

CEDAR RAPIDS — Niels Christensen said he’s been racing hobby-grade remote-controlled vehicles in events around the state since 1990, oftentimes taking his family along.

“It turned into a family outing,” said Musetta Christensen, Niels’s wife.

Now, that weekend family outing has turned into a business for the Cedar Rapids couple.

On Dec. 3, Niels and Musetta Christensen opened HobbyTown, a hobby-grade remote-controlled vehicle retailer, in the Town and Country Shopping Center on First Ave SE in Cedar Rapids. Products that are hobby-grade are higher quality than toy-grade.

The couple decided to buy into HobbyTown, a national franchise with headquarters in Lincoln, Neb., after the Cedar Rapids hobby store Box-Kar Hobbies closed its doors.

“It was kind of one of those things I’ve always wanted to do,” Niels said.

HobbyTown is located in 2,800-square-foot space that previously housed Box-Kar. The majority of its items includes vehicles such as cars and planes, but the store also sells drones, quadcopters, board games and puzzles.

The store also tailors to model enthusiasts.

“The modeling, I didn’t think would be popular — but there’s a big market for that,” Musetta said. “It seems like big-name stores have dropped those products, so this is a niche for us.”

However, the majority of its customers are racers such her husband, she said.

In fact, Niels the couple recently received permission from the landlord to host remote-controlled racing in the shopping center’s parking lot this coming summer.

The benefit of buying into a franchise, rather than opening their own small business, is the help can receive from the national company, Niels noted. When the couple had a funeral to attend on a Saturday, for example, an employee from an out-of-town HobbyTown was able to keep the store open for them.

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“We could have started our own business, but we would have had to learn by fire, which would not have been good,” Niels said.

Through their store and their experience, the Christensens said they hope to bring more popularity to hobby-grade interest and racing in Cedar Rapids.

At a glance

— Business: HobbyTown

— Owners: Niels and Musetta Christensen

— Address: 3655 First Ave SE, Cedar Rapids

— Phone: (319) 382-8040

— Website: www.hobbytown.com

— Know a business that would be ideal for “The Ground Floor”? Contact Michael Chevy Castranova at michaelchevy.castranova@thegazette.com.

— Comments: (319) 368-8536; michaela.ramm@thegazette.com

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