BOARDMAN -- As co-owner of Amer's Hobby Shop, Ken Patterson likes to recall happy childhood memories
BOARDMAN -- As co-owner of Amer's Hobby Shop, Ken Patterson likes to recall happy childhood memories involving trains.
One has to do with the many times Patterson and his father ate at a restaurant on the corner of Himrod and Wilson avenues on Youngstown's South Side when he was a kid.
"We got a seat facing the tracks so we could watch the trains go by," he said. "We'd go there for lunch and go [to] downtown [Youngstown] to pay bills."
Patterson's mother worked at Stambaugh's at the time, which exposed him to train displays highlighted in the store's window. Other memories include wearing out four wind-up models he got for Christmas, as well as numerous visits to Amer's.
The store, which opened on Market Street and Kenmore Avenue in 1948, has been at its Boardman location since 1961.
Although Patterson's interest in trains was sidelined when he served three years in the Army, he got his hobby back on track when he came home in 1967.
His interest continued while he worked as a field computer technician for Unisys.
Then in 1990, he and Jack DeMain bought the shop from its founder, Howard Amer.
The hobby shop, known for its eclectic variety of model trains, planes and automobiles and accessories, generates about 50 percent of its income from November through January -- peak months for model train enthusiasts to work on their craft, Patterson pointed out.
Amer's has survived competition with larger department store chains largely due to its reputation among longtime customers, Patterson added.
"Customers come to share their knowledge with others. We can get things for customers other stores can't. We deal with the manufacturer and distributor both," he said.
That view was mirrored by DeMain, who handles the repair end of the business. DeMain, who began working for Howard Amer in 1955, said he still cleans and maintains new and old locomotives and their engines, including some that were made in the early 1900s.
DeMain, a former 35-year Youngstown civil engineer, added that today's model trains are more durable than those built in the past, and that many customers are able to do their own troubleshooting. As a result, he averages 400 to 500 repairs a year, down from about 3,000 previously.
While the type of maintenance, tune-ups and other repairs he's performed over the years has changed little, many of DeMain's customers are now older people, because fewer kids buy and assemble model cars or trains than in the past. Many of those who visit his shop are in their 70s and 80s, DeMain said.
Children are busier today because of computers and sports, he said. But older people are returning to the hobby because they are retired, he said.
Patterson and DeMain, both of whom belong to the 50-member Youngstown Model Railroad Association, said they hope to stay on course to promote the hobby and remain current with what has become a growing industry.