Norwood Park hobby shop celebrates 50 years in business
by JASON MEREL
This week marked 50 years in business for Chicagoland Toys and Hobbies, 6017 N. Northwest Hwy., and owner Greg Bosak discussed how the family business came to the Northwest Side and adapted to an evolving retail market.
Greg’s father Richard bought the business in 1972 but began his hobby career at All Nation Hobbies, which was located at 222 W. Madison Ave., then worked for United Model Distributors, before looking into buying an existing hobby business in a second-floor office space at 6 E. Randolph St.
Richard later bought the business on and on May 8, 1972, it opened on at 22 W. Madison St.
“At that time, there were a half dozen places you could buy hobby supplies from,” Bosak said. “Marshall Fields, Woolworth and hardware stores used to carry some hobby stuff too. As those businesses diminished and they got rid of hobby departments, less people came downtown to shop for hobby supplies.”
The Northwest Highway location opened in August of 1984 but Bosak said it took time to build the store into what it is today.
“When we moved in, it was three different storefronts,” he said. “We had the largest of the three and as other businesses moved out, we expanded.”
His brother started A Trendz Auto and Truck Accessory Shoppe in one of the neighboring storefronts in 1988, before moving to its current location at 6333 N. Northwest Hwy.
Bosak said the hobby business has changed but the store has endured due to a combination of loyal local hobbyists and a willingness to adapt to the market.
“We’ve always been what you would call a full-service hobby shop but our specialty was trains,” Bosak said. “Then we expanded into remote-control. There was more of a market on the Northwest Side since people had space to run them.”
He said the business has always sold trains, Estes rockets, plastic models and hobby supplies including paints, glues, scenery and figurines.
The business was a supplier for the Boy Scouts of America for about 25 years, according to Bosak. He said the store sold uniforms, certain patches (except merit badges, which had to be earned), books and even some camping accessories. But he said the distributorship was cut unexpectedly in the summer of 2020.The store still carries Girl Scouts uniforms, patches and books.
Bosak said one of the adaptations the business made was to become a supplier for Amazon.
“We’re at the mercy of their return policies, which I don’t think are the fairest,” Bosak said. “But you have to be there. Our online presence is about 20 percent of our sales right now, so you need to have that turnaround of inventory to keep yourself going.”
He said a model with hundreds of pieces was recently returned after the buyer removed all of the pieces from the plastic frames, then decided it was too complex to complete.
As far as the other 80 percent of sales, Bosak credits a loyal group of regulars.
“Every once in a while a young family will come in on the weekend to look at train sets and it feels really good to see a fresh face,” he said. “I think the fact that we’ve been around so long has really helped us. We have a really dedicated customer base. I hear it all the time: ‘I’d rather support a local business than buy this stuff online.’ I think the fact that we’ve been flexible has also helped.” “Some of my longtime customers know that I just turned 65 recently and they keep asking, ‘You’re not retiring are you? You can’t retire,’” Bosak said. “It’s really humbling to have people say that to you and I take it as a complement and a sign of respect. But eventually that day is going to come a and I’ll want to retire too.”