Valparaiso hobby store owners ready for new pursuits
BY AMY LAVALLEY Post-Tribune correspondent February 24, 2014 9:20PM
Valparaiso Hobby owners Sharon and Joe Henley are retiring and plan to close the shop in June, one month after it celebrates its 47th anniversary. | Post-Tribune
Principals from schools on probation will appear at hearings on Tuesday:
Bailly - 2:10 p.m.
Beveridge - 2:30 p.m.
Brunswick - 2:50 p.m.
Jefferson - 3:10 p.m.
Marquette - 3:30 p.m.
Watson - 3:50 p.m.
Webster - 4:10 p.m.
Williams - 4:30 p.m.
Dunbar-Pulaski- 4:50 p.m.
Lew Wallace - 5:10 p.m.
West Side - 5:30 p.m.
Wirt-Emerson - 5:50 p.m.
Updated: March 26, 2014 6:02AM
VALPARAISO — Joe Klodzen has been shopping at Valparaiso Hobby since around 1977, when the shop had a location for a few years in Portage, where he lives.
“I’m a train nut,” Klodzen said earlier this month while purchasing a train puzzle, and train parts, animals and a building for his model railway. He gets most of what he needs at the downtown shop, and “I get the rest of it at swap meets.”
These days, Klodzen is stocking up, because Valparaiso Hobby owners Sharon and Joe Henley are retiring. They plan to close the shop in June, one month after it celebrates its 47th anniversary.
Klodzen isn’t sure where he’ll go after the shop closes.
“That’s a good question,” he said, while the Henleys rang up his purchases. “It’s the most complete place out there. I don’t know any place that sells parts.”
While some mom-and-pop shops may fall victim to big box stores and Internet sales, the Henleys said they’ve held their own, maybe losing a little bit to online sales, but not much.
The 6,000-square-foot store, at 18 N. Washington St., offers a wide array of model train supplies, as well as radio-controlled planes, helicopters, boats and cars.
“The things we carry, it takes someone to be there,” Joe Henley said, adding trying to offer what they do online is “like fixing a car over the phone.”
The parts and service the shop offers — they’ve even spiffed up train sets before they get set up under Christmas trees — set it apart.
“That’s probably what they’re going to miss the most,” he said.
The Henleys — Sharon is 70 and Joe is 72 — decided more than a year ago to start winding things down after Christmas 2013. The lifelong Valparaiso residents have two grown sons who live in town, as well as three grandchildren and one great-grandson.
The shop, Sharon Henley said, first opened across the street from its current location as a tropical fish store.
“It was very small, with maybe 25 fish tanks. Then people started asking for things, a hamster, could we get it, a snake, could we get it,” she said.
After a year or two, the shop moved to where it is now, and began to expand.
“In the beginning, when we moved over here, we added dog and cat supplies, and hamsters, and parakeets, and finches, and their supplies,” she said. They added hobby supplies a few years later.
“We thought we needed some other little niche, and it worked well together.”
In 1984, a fire at Temple Israel, located next door at the time, also damaged the hobby shop.
“We lost everything to smoke and water damage,” Sharon Henley said. “It gave us a chance to remodel and add air conditioning. That was a big plus.”
A few years ago, the shop dropped the fish and the pet supplies to concentrate more on hobby needs.
Now, that will end soon, too. The Henleys said they will miss their customers, and are deciding what to do once they retire. They may travel some, but Sharon Henley said they like Valparaiso and don’t plan to move.
“It would be nice to sell the business, but that just hasn’t happened,” she said, adding their sons have other pursuits and while some folks have mentioned buying the shop, nothing’s happened. “It’s hard to get a loan on a small business today.”
Joe Klodzen lingered for a moment while he held his shopping bags, chatting with the Henleys.
“I should buy this place,” he joked, and then paused. “I’m too old. I’m older than him,” he said, referring to Joe Henley. “He’s a young squirt.”