Perhaps more than any store, restaurant, or other business in Laurel’s retail past, the one place that I’ve consistently heard the most about is a little shop that opened in (and along with) Laurel Plaza Shopping Center in October 1965. It was at least a decade before pinball and video game arcades became the rage; and by all accounts, Hobby House may have topped them all in terms of sheer awesomeness.
Throughout the summer of ’65, Hobby House advertised heavily in the Laurel News Leader—bold, exciting ads that showcased the store’s massive tabletop slot car racing tracks. As if that wasn’t enough to draw you in, they also carried a full line of all things hobby: coins, stamps, model airplanes, model ships, model trains, and more. It was essentially Laurel’s precursor to HobbyWorks—which, coincidentally, remains open in Laurel Shopping Center to this day.
While Hobby House was part of the new Laurel Plaza Shopping Center, it wasn’t actually a brand new store. It had previously been located at 342 Main Street—current location of the Laurel Board of Trade—for five years. The Main Street location, however, didn’t have the slot car racing tracks; and its new store was the first of its kind in the Laurel area. In fact, owner Bill Bromley proclaimed his three new championship-approved tabletop tracks “the finest facilities available in the state”.
The new store also boasted some impressive hours for its era, open daily from 10AM to 11PM, and noon to 11PM on Sundays. Customers were encouraged to bring their own slot cars to race, and there were plenty available to buy or rent for a nominal fee.
I’ve also heard nothing but great things about the store’s staff, including owner Bill Bromley, and his brother, Dick—who served as assistant manager. I was glad to unearth a couple of photos of these gentlemen from September 1965 issues of the News Leader as well:
And a May 1966 full page ad captured a number of Laurel Plaza store entrances, including Hobby House.
Unfortunately for me, Hobby House had apparently already closed by the time my family arrived at Steward Manor in the late 70s, and I never did get to experience it. (You don’t have to pity me too much—I did get to surf the wave of awesomeness that was Time-Out and Showbiz Pizza Place in their respective heydays).
But I wanted to share a wonderful Hobby House recollection from our good friend John Floyd II—a lifelong train buff who remembers a special day and the equally special customer service that went along with it:
Hobby House was wicked! Those large racing tracks were cool and it was always fun to see them in action, but electric model trains were my thing and Hobby House had plenty of them in the new “N scale” whose compact size appealed to me. Mr Dick Bromley was either owner or manager of HH and he was ever so accommodating. In 1968, the ill-fated Penn Central merger between Pennsylvania RR and New York Central System endeared me to that poorly-conceived, behemoth railway company, not to mention being amongst a thousand spectators who gathered at Odenton to see the solemn and dignified funeral train PC ran for RFK in June of ’68. So, for my 11th birthday that year, Mum took me to Hobby House to select a train set. Alas, there were none to be had in Penn Central colours, but Mr Bromley soon sorted that out by combining an individual locomotive, passenger cars, freight cars, and a caboose into a splendid custom Penn Central train set!
Eventually, he would be involved with the operation of Laurel Shopping Center and Laurel Centre Mall (Rich, I’ve got one of his business cards for you!) as well as the Chamber of Commerce. I believe one of Laurel’s Fourth of July Parade trophy awards is also named in Mr Bromley’s honour. When Hobby House closed (late ’70s or early ’80s?), it left a void not filled until Hobby Works (for general hobby interests) and Peach Creek Shops (for hard-core railway modellers) came along in the 1990s.
John did indeed have a business card for me, from Dick Bromley’s term as Promotion Director at Laurel Centre—complete with its original logo before the ill-advised April 1998 “Laurel Mall” rebrand!
I’m looking forward to digging further into the 1970s archives, to hopefully determine when Hobby House closed and for what reasons; and for more information about the Bromley brothers. But in the meantime, I’ll just have to imagine what it must’ve been like, racing slot cars against Laurel’s fast and furious. I have to believe that I’d be the only one who’d show up with a custom Bob’s Cab racer, though.
Get ready to pay the meter, kids. Next stop, Hobby House.
we visited regularly my son woould gather his cars up on a saturday morning and after a hurried breakfast off we would go mom was hit up for the money he played non- stop till i told him we were going other places ,my sons name was michael meister!!
Great article; I have been trying to remember the name of this place for years. My Dad used to take me there on birthdays and such back in the 70’s.
Loved the bob’s cab photo. My father, Robert V. Tucker, once owned Bobs Cab, sometime in the 50s, and as a kid I used to get a lot of free rides from the older cabbies when I told them that. It’s my understanding, though, that my father was not the first Bob to own it.
Met my first wife at the Drug Fair in this shopping center in 1973. Financed my motorcycle through Household Finance located here in 1975. I sure miss Laurel, I sure don’t miss what Laurel, and Maryland, has become. Great memories, but no future there.
Thanks for the memories. I remember many happy hours working at HH from late 67 to mid 69 (or so). When Jeff left I was given the train department and had a ball. My first experience at HH was building a 4×8 N scale demonstrator layout in the front window. Anyone have any up dates on Bill or DIck or Jeff. Barbara was there, too as was Gary and Jim. Many meals with June at Pixie Pizza and Marty at Drug Fair. After getting out of the AF, I stayed for a year then moved back to Boston.