Lost Hobby Shops: Yennora Hobbies
Yennora Hobbies near Sydney in Australia is just one of many great hobby shops that have disappeared over the past decade or so.
And like many, it deserves to be remembered.
It’s quite sad that the era of the bricks-and-mortar retail Hobby Shop now appears to be well past it’s peak. There may even come a time in the not too distant future when the last physical hobby shops are gone for good.
For some, the difficult times in the retail hobby industry are a sign of inevitable progress. The Internet has made the world a global marketplace, and hobby shops are mostly small, privately-owned businesses that have been ill-equipped to compete in an international price war.
But cultural attitudes have also changed. The pastimes of children seem to have steadily evolved away from traditional toys of all kinds and away from the visceral fun of playing in a scaled-down world of real objects.
For these reasons, many traditional hobby shops have disappeared over the years. And that’s a shame because for many the local hobby shop was a place of inspiration and fascination. Just about everyone who enjoys hobbies has a nice memory or two of a hobby shop they used to frequent as a kid. And in many cases these early experiences even went on inspire careers in engineering, technology or the arts.
When I was a kid growing up in the 1980s and 1990s, the typical local hobby shop had already existed for 30 or 40 years, but they were still places of such unique wonder and excitement – a world of exciting toys that were a cut above the standard toy shop fare. Realistic miniature objects and vehicles that were just like the real thing, only smaller. My size. But perfect. And able to be built, glued, painted, decorated, launched, flown, steered and driven – by me. If only my pocket money were enough to buy them all!
Today, a whole generation of kids is growing up largely oblivious to this fun. Or perhaps, with all the advancing technology of today, hobbies just aren’t as cool or interesting as they once were.
Either way, all I know is that many of the hobby shops I once frequented are now gone. Most people don’t seem to care all that much. And yet, these places left me with such happy memories that I think they deserve to be remembered.
I’ll be posting about a few of my favourite hobby shops on this blog, and first on the list is Yennora Hobbies (aka Toyman Imports).
Located in a fairly nondescript part of an industrial area in the Sydney suburb of its title, Yennora Hobbies was a huge store that existed for many decades. I believe it’s long-time owner sold the business in the early 2000s to new owners, who were unable to continue its success. I have also heard that a series of thefts impacted the business, before it’s closure in about 2002.
But in the good times, Yennora was arguably one of the three biggest hobby shops in my part of Australia. And in my view, probably the best.
Believe it or not, it used to be here…
In the above pic, I think Yennora Hobbies used to be in the “Abdallah Steel Fabricators” spot, but I’m not sure if the old building was demolished or if this is still the same structure. This is certainly the correct address.
Either way, it looked little different back when it was actually “Yennora Hobbies”. A fairly narrow building facade with just a small door off to one side and a small sign above it. A first-time visitor could easily drive past the place and miss it completely (which we did). But for those who knew it was there it was unforgettable. Apparently business had been strong for many years, and I suspect this was largely thanks to positive word of mouth.
Their print ads were usually pretty simple compared with other hobby shops. Here’s an ad from the mid 1980s. The business had always gone by the name “Toyman Imports” as well…
I first visited Yennora with my Mum and Dad in the early 1990s, and as you walked into the store I remember there was a huge glass display case on the left (and even a vending machine – nice for hot days) which was usually filled with built R/C models. Tamiyas, Kyoshos, anything really… I distinctly remember seeing an original Tamiya Wild Willys jeep there, and a Tamiya Clod Buster. Tamiya Frogs, and Hotshots too. Many of these items were for sale on consignment from private sellers, which was a great idea – hence there were many older models on display that were no longer available via retail.
In fact, it was the first time I had actually seen many of these vintage Tamiya models in the flesh. There was no Internet back then of course. All I’d known prior to this was an old 1987 Tamiya catalogue that I’d got for free from another kid at school. And after gazing at those catalogue pages for so many years, wondering if I would ever see these amazing models (let alone own them), walking into Yennora was almost like a dream. Seeing the occasional vintage Tamiya was a bit like seeing a celebrity, and I would whisper to my Dad all the models I could identify, trying not to look too excited (despite being so).
In addition to all the display models, the store had loads of old R/C parts (often in baskets on the floor – and yes, I bought as much as I could afford at the time). There were even many used parts – whole gearboxes or front end assemblies of R/C models that you could buy for $40 or so.
What the store lacked in physical width it made up for in depth. The aisles were quite long, and each one was packed with a different discipline – cars, planes, boats, diecast, plastic kits, trains and so on. For a while I was very into model trains and managed to find a few great HO scale Hornby bargains as there was a huge selection of models and accessories, both new and on consignment.
Another time, near the back of the store, I spotted a large, jeep-like scale model on the bottom shelf of a display case. I didn’t even know what it was at the time, and it’s price was $90. I later learned it was a new-built Tamiya Lamborghini Cheetah 1/10 – an R/C model. But I was too late and missed my chance to buy what would have been an amazing bargain.
In many ways, it was the classic hobby shop – nothing flash on the outside, but a wealth of interesting content inside. And with a history spanning some 20-30 years, it had that really old Hobby Shop feel too. A sense of history, experience, and plenty of old stock lying around that meant it was a bit of a treasure hunt.
In 1997, Australian Models & Hobbies magazine ran a promotional profile on a few different hobby shops, and here’s what they printed about Yennora…
Unfortunately I don’t have any photos from inside the store during its heyday (if anyone does, please contact me as I would gladly post them here!).
My Dad and I were really starting to get into Tamiya R/C cars in the early 1990s and were in the process of trying to build a couple of them from parts, with not that much money. Yennora was an invaluable place to find parts, and we loved going there so much that we would visit about once every couple of months just to see what was new – not bad given that it was nearly a 2 hour drive away from where we lived.
By 2001 or so, the store had changed ownership and begun to lost a bit of it’s shine. The huge selection of R/C kits had dwindled to just a few, and it was only a year or so after this that I heard the store had closed.
Still, many great memories, especially of times with my late Dad, buying interesting treasures that I still have to this day. I can’t even bear to remove the Yennora price stickers from many of them!
Thanks for all those sunny weekend afternoons, Yennora Hobbies.