INDEPENDENCE, Mo. – In an era where most shopping is done online, a mom and pop hobby shop out of Independence is doing things backward.
Midwest Model Railroad went from Internet sales to a brick and mortar location right here in the metro.
Gary Atwell’s obsession began at five years old.
“It was a train that basically went around at Christmas tree," he said. "I was told later by my mom that my dad and uncle stayed up all night and played with it before I even got a chance to, but that's how we got started.”
He never planned to own a model railroad hobby shop, but it grew from his struggle to find parts.
“We said, ‘Well let's look at a couple of manufacturers around and see if they'll sell to us,' and they would," Atwell said. "And we started buying up used equipment and fixing it up and selling it. And of course, that was all online through eBay.”
Pretty soon his layout and his inventory was too much for the Atwell household.
“It got to the point where it had the unfinished basement, it had half the family room, it had the fifth bedroom downstairs," he said.
"The mailman had to pick up all the boxes off the front porch and UPS. I mean, at times our front porch you could barely make a path through because there was so much incoming and outgoing mail,” Atwell said.
So he and his wife Alice went from an online store front to one off Highway 40 in Independence.
“It's surprising how many model railroaders you find like within a five-mile radius of here at the store," Atwell said. "They just kind of come out of the woodwork.”
They’ve shipped as far as Hong Kong and Australia, and they’ve had folks come in from as far as from Belgium.
Even though they got their start online, the Atwells are grateful for the new face-to-face that comes with their brick and mortar.
“Somebody who's got a question or something, we can sit there and instead of emailing back and forth and waiting for the replies, we can work with them right there,” Atwell said.
The store will soon start offering model classes. Follow them on Facebook.