RED BANK – Children, rejoice. Toys are coming back to downtown Red Bank.
Hobbymasters, an eclectic, two-story mecca for hobby kits, train sets, drone operators and science experiments with a focus on customer service, plans to expand its offerings to include a wide variety of popular toys.
The owners of the building at 62 White St. also plan to lease out the vacant store next door to a new tenant. The space, formerly known as Toymasters, shuttered last year after 33 years in business.
Hobbymasters general manager Lou Troisi said he wants to fill the hole in the retail market left behind by Toymasters and the closing of some big box retailers. Later this month he is going on a buying trip to the International Toy Fair in Nuremberg, Germany, a trade show for hobby and leisure-time items.
“What we’re going to bring in is the nostalgic toys that have staying power, the ones that everyone remembers and loves,” said Troisi. “But we’re also going to have the new, modern, popular items. We’re not sure what they’re going to be yet in 2019. We’ll have to let the market dictate that.”
Last year Troisi hinted he was thinking about expanding his inventory during an interview with The Two River Times.
Following the announcement that Toys “R” Us would be liquidating its stores and dismissing 33,000 employees across the nation, including those at popular locations in Hazlet, Shrewsbury, Tinton Falls and Freehold, Troisi said he expected to re-evaluate the Hobbymasters inventory to meet the diverse needs of the local customer base.
The recent closing of Sears in Middletown also factored in to expanding his store’s offerings in 2019.
“There’s a void there now and we want to appeal to the people who don’t know where to shop,” Troisi said while standing in front of shelving units stocked with remote-controlled cars, model vehicle kits and a showcase full of Pokémon, Magic the Gathering and various other card games.
Toymasters shuttered its doors in November 2017, when owner Denise Zappoli retired to focus on her health.
The two stores enjoyed a complementary relationship. Both independent with a high level of customer service and diverse stock, they allowed patrons to easily pass through an inner door to browse either shop.
The Toymasters stock was sold off last year or donated to charity. These days the space is being used as a synthetic off-road course for remote-controlled cars, but Troisi said he is in search of a new tenant for the storefront.
Troisi added that the decision to carry both hobby items and toy products is to better compete with the online conglomerates like Amazon and eBay.
Like various other brick-and-mortar retailers in Red Bank, adapting to and surviving within an evolving marketplace is difficult for those who can’t provide consumers with an experience.
Troisi believes an expanded catalogue of options will make Hobbymasters a comprehensive haven for his current clientele, a broader audience of collectors and more traditional consumers.
“We want to be the place for buyers who are interested in touching a product, feeling a product and interacting with it, and we’ll compete with any online retailer’s pricing,” Troisi said. “What you’re also getting is the service and the knowledge of our employees, some of which, myself included, have been here for more than 30 years. That knowledge is the reason a place like this is still here.”
This article was first published in the Feb.7-14, 2019 print edition of The Two River Times.