Tag Archives: gaming

Hobby House

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.

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Time-Out Family Amusement Center

Laurel Centre, early 1980s (Photo: timeouttunnel.com)

Like countless Laurel kids who grew up in the 1980s, there’s never been any hesitation in my reply when asked what my favorite place was at Laurel Centre. It was and always will be Time-Out.

The small, crowded, video game arcade on the upper level near center court was a constant cacophony of digitized noise. Even before entering, you could recognize specific sounds over the din: Pac Man gobbling ghosts, a lost life in Donkey Kong, pinball paddles flapping, and quarters being dispensed by a Rowe bill changer.

I can’t begin to estimate how many games were actually in use at Laurel’s Time-Out; I’m sure it changed over the years. Pinball, obviously on the wane with the ascension of video games, was gradually relegated to the back wall of the arcade. The arcade cabinets multiplied over the years, until gamers found themselves practically elbow to elbow.

If I recall correctly, the more popular games (and new arrivals) were typically housed near the front of the arcade. There may have even been two Pac Man machines to accommodate the frenzy (or dare I say, the Pac Man Fever) in 1980–81. I remember Pac Man being on the left of the room, near the front. I think I ultimately spent more time on the right side of the arcade, however; playing a selection of games that—at the time—seemed to be setting unprecedented standards for graphics.While late 1970s games such as Asteroids, Space Invaders, and Galaxian were established classics and remained popular, 1981–82 marked a dramatic change with the arrival of Donkey Kong, Donkey Kong Jr., Pole Position, Tron, Xevious, and others. Q*bert was another fan favorite at Time-Out around this same period, as was Popeye, which sat just a space or two away in a Nintendo cabinet very much like that of Donkey Kong.

Pole Position (and Pole Position 2, the following year) were always popular driving games—complete with steering wheel and gas pedal controls—but Spy Hunter was, in my humble opinion, better than both combined. I can’t remember if Time Out had the stand-up or sit-down model (or both, at some point), but either was well worth a few quarters.

Of course, the games didn’t only take quarters—they took tokens. Official Time-Out tokens, which were like gold to kids—especially if we found coupons for free tokens. Every so often, a free newspaper would be distributed throughout Laurel. (Ad Bag, perhaps?) And occasionally, inside this publication would be a coupon for one free Time-Out token. Needless to say, those of us who grew up in apartment complexes like Steward Manor saw the stacks of these Ad Bags in hallways as a literal gold mine of Time-Out tokens. Naturally, cashing them in was the tough part—as the attendants quickly began to recognize the kids coming in with more than one coupon…

 

 

To date, I’ve only found the one photo of Time-Out at Laurel Centre. Surely, someone thought to bring a camera inside at some point; but then again, who had time to take pictures when games like Track & Field or Yie Ar Kung-Fu became available? One had to be ready with one’s quarters (or tokens) when the games opened up.

While the following images are almost certainly not from the Laurel location, they do convey the essence of Time-Out that most of us remember—the brightly-colored wall graphics contrasted with the dark ceiling that seemed to disappear into a night sky; the ambient lighting creating a perfect environment for the gaming experience.

These interior photos were found at a fantastic site called TimeOutTunnel.com—a virtual museum curated by Peter Hirschberg, who has gone more than a mere step beyond. His tribute site not only houses a tremendous repository of Time-Out photos and artifacts, but Peter has painstakingly recreated a number of details—such as the iconic signage within most locations, and wickedly sweet 3D renderings of store fronts and games themselves. Seriously—prepare to be amazed.

Yes, he got the details right all the way down to the trash cans!

Remember the High Score of the Week cards that sat atop each game? Peter has even recreated them—in all the correct colors. Didn’t I say you’d be amazed?

It’s always been a dream of mine to have a basement full of vintage 1980s arcade cabinets. Or even one, for that matter. I don’t even care if its something like Root Beer Tapper—it doesn’t have to be the top of the line, most popular game of all time. But realistically, space (or lack thereof) and the fact that the Xbox 360 has done the unthinkable—made video arcades irrelevant—have pushed that goal quite far to the back burner.

But in the meantime, I have indulged my old school arcade affinity on a much smaller scale. My miniature arcade, built by the incredibly talented Justin Whitlock, sits on a shelf in my studio above my desk—a constant reminder of Time-Out and the countless hours of entertainment it provided. If you have quarters, you’re welcome to come by anytime. Just don’t expect to play Spy Hunter. Boba Fett—not the most considerate of action figures—tends to hog the machine all day.

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