After my original article about the lost Sydney hobby shop “Yennora Hobbies”, R/C Memories was contacted by Yennora Hobbies’ former owner and co-founder Brent Fox, who ran the store for almost 30 years.
Brent kindly offered to share some of his memories and even some old photographs of the store.
So it’s been my pleasure to put together a little “part 2” of the Yennora Hobbies story…
Yennora Hobbies was, in many ways, a typical – some might even say ‘classic’ – hobby store.
Far away from the glossy and glassy storefronts and shopping complexes of larger urban centres, and nestled in the quiet industrial area of a very plain suburb on the outskirts of Sydney, it had always given me the impression of pure practicality. Just a no-nonsense location from which to sell stock, to a customer demographic far more concerned with obtaining specialist items than with the act of shopping itself.
It was in effect, a garage. A bit like someone’s Dad’s garage. Packed floor-to-ceiling with shelves of stuff, but in a way that still had character and which made sense. And just as spending time helping your Dad out in his garage might be something you look back on fondly in adulthood, summer afternoons spent at an old-time hobby store like Yennora tended to have a similar feel.
In speaking to Yennora’s former owner Brent Fox recently, it turns out that the store’s garage-like feel was even more about the practicalities of business than I had previously realized.
Yennora Hobbies started out as “Toyman Imports” way back in 1969, a purely wholesale business supplying toys to retailers. Brent and his brother David bought the business, and despite it having been in the red to the tune of $30,000 in the previous year, in their first month together they turned over just $69 – humble beginnings, but still a profit.
Here’s how the business looked, circa 1970…
After 2 years, David left the company to run other businesses, and Brent built it up on the back of popular products such as ‘Life-Like’ brand model trains from Hong Kong.
Gradually the business began selling direct to a few customers in model clubs and the like, but with the advent of larger stores like K-Mart who were both importers and retailers, the role of the wholesaler began to change and the “garage” was eventually forced to evolve into it’s own fully retail store.
But with strong ongoing ties to the importers and agents for some of the popular brands, the business was able to continue buying in bulk and offering very competitive prices. On August 11th, 1986, Toyman Imports officially registered the name “Yennora Hobbies”, and it’s reputation as one of Sydney’s best hobby destinations continued to grow from there.
These next photos show the store much more as I remember it, both inside and out during the 1980s and 1990s…
The above interior shot was taken in 1993. I’m hoping Brent will find a few more lying around, but for now this shows the long aisles of display cabinets, and the ‘busy’ feel of an old-time hobby store in which you could often find many unusual, older items still on the shelves.
The cabinets were often filled both with new and “on consignment” (second-hand) items, among which some really great bargains could be found.
In the early 1980s, R/C cars began to take off, and according to Brent…
The first r/c kits we had were the Sand Scorcher and the Rough Rider and not long after the Frog and other models were released. The Hornet was basic but reliable and the best seller of the earlier cars.
R/C cars would later go on to become one of the most popular items in the store, but initially Brent had approached them with some trepidation. Tamiya, of course, had started out in the 1950s as a maker of purely plastic model kits, and by the late 1970s were already a major player in this industry.
Their move into R/C appeared to take some retailers by surprise, and according to Brent it wasn’t until they actually received the first R/C kit in a shipment that they had a chance to assess this major new product…
In one of those releases we received one R/C kit and I think it was the Rough Rider (maybe Sand scorcher but I think that was the second release). We saw this thing arrive and said “who will build that – its expensive!”. A couple of days later and it was gone, so we rang and ordered another one. And so on it went.
As always, occasional luck also plays a role in any successful enterprise, and sometime circa 1980, the growing popularity of hobbies in general presented Toyman Imports with a unique opportunity – a ‘hobby spectacular’ was being arranged in the outer western Sydney suburb of Windsor by the Channel 10 TV station, and it was to take place at a place called “Paradise Gardens” on the banks of the Hawkesbury River. It was to be a sort of demonstration day for the public to come along and see all the new hobby products available – including Tamiya electric R/C cars.
Initially billed as “The Paradise Gardens Hobby Spectacular”, Toyman Imports was lucky to snatch sole sponsorship duties from another well-known Sydney toy retailer – Peter Pigott’s “Uncle Pete’s Toys” – and the day was then renamed “The Toyman Imports Hobby Spectacular”. It was a huge success after being heavily promoted on Channel 10, and according to Brent it really helped put Toyman Imports on the map, triggering a 20% increase in turnover, with the business still basking in the glow of the promotion for up to a year.
Because of the naming deal, no other toy or hobby shops were in attendance, but another player in the local hobby business – Sydney’s famous Hobbyco (today arguably the largest surviving hobby store in the Sydney area) – still sent someone out to put pamphlets under all the car windscreen wipers of the crowds who attended.
Sadly, as I mentioned in my previous article, Yennora Hobbies was finally closed for business in the early 2000s after a spate of burglaries due to a rise in crime in the Yennora area.
Brent had sold the business to new owners in 1997, and in the years that followed the store was even ram-raided – an attack Brent says nearly killed the fools who had driven their car into the store’s brick facade, after the bricks collapsed onto the car!
But the effect of these events on business were still too much for Yennora Hobbies to survive, and the business closed soon after.
Looking back now some ten years after its closure and with almost no trace of the store remaining, Brent says…
The stresses of 30 years in small business finally caught up with me and I was happy to get out but very disappointed with what happened to the new owners and to have put so much of my life into the business and now to see not a trace it feels quite surreal…
Well, rest assured Brent. For the thousands of customers who enjoyed many visits to Yennora over the decades, and who would often literally spend hours wandering this unique and interesting hobby store, all those happy memories are actually much stronger than bricks and mortar.
Edit 10th December 2013 – Brent recently sent me a few more photos taken inside Yennora Hobbies at sometime in the 1990s, so here they are… (you can spot a few R/C kits in these)