Many of the Northwoods Hobby Shop customers like to drive, but few can fit into their vehicles.
Instead they operate miniaturized versions of race cars and off-road vehicles using radio controls. Northwoods Hobby Shop formerly operated a track for radio-controlled car races. The road race course track was located on Highway 25 just north of Rice Lake. The business ownership changed. And a zoning ordinance caused the track to be closed.
The new partners decided to reinvent their concept and created a hobby shop that opened about nine months ago on Front Street in downtown Brainerd.
They still have the radio-controlled cars and the parts to help racers and operators maintain them. Customers and support come from the Brainerd Area Radio Controlled Car Club and the airborne version with radio-controlled planes with the Paul Bunyan Flying Club.
John Hamilton, partner in the Northwoods Hobby Shop, displayed radio-controlled cars, fueled by a gas mixture or battery power, that are used by hobbyists in racing events in the area and on the national level.
John Hamilton, Northwoods Hobby Shop partner, used to race the radio-controlled cars. He said events attract 50 to 60 people with 40 to 45 entries. The little cars are powered by a fuel that is similar to the mixture in full-size dragsters. There also are battery-powered vehicles that allow racers to run indoors. The group races at Brainerd High School during the winter months and created a student scholarship for the high school as appreciation for use of the facility.
Hamilton said operating the cars takes a little time on the learning curve but people are there to help newcomers to the hobby.
The hobby is competitive and includes national competitions. Two racers from the Brainerd area are set to travel to Asia for a world cup race after qualifying in a regional race in Wisconsin.
"Nationwide it's a very big thing," Hamilton said. "There have been guys racing for 20 to 30 years."
There are race tracks for the hobbyists in St. Cloud, Bemidji, Grand Rapids and the Twin Cities. Hamilton and his business partner, Doug Hetland, bought the business two years ago. They had the race track on Highway 25 for about a year before a zoning issue caused them to lose it, Hamilton said.
They are looking for an alternative site. And they decided to rebuild themselves into more of a retail setting. The hobby shop expanded into other areas including model kits to build cars, ships, planes and tanks. There is even a kit to build Star Trek's Mr. Scott. The shop includes modeling clay and they are experimenting with other craft items.
Life-size cars on Front Street are reflected in the hobby shop display window while tiny auto versions and mini trains navigate tracks inside.
Getting into the radio-controlled planes and cars can cost $300 to $400 on average for a start-up.
The Paul Bunyan Flying Club takes to the air every Tuesday night in St. Mathias. The club provides training for newcomers. The Brainerd Area Radio Controlled Car Club meets for an event once a month. The next race event is set from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. July 21 in front of The Body Works in Baxter.
Hamilton said there is general interest in starting a boat club in the area.
"If we can just hang on for awhile I think we are really going to take off," Hamilton said of the business. "We can order just about anything anyone wants. ... We are just in a growing mode right now."
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