Business

Hobby shop lands in North Bend

To the delight of many Valley children - and adults - Todd's Models, formerly located in Trucktown, is now selling electric model airplanes, remote control cars and other hobby items from its new downtown North Bend shop.

Maybe it's the shiny model planes hanging in the window, including one blue beauty that flies at almost 100 mph, that have have lured customers in.

Within two days of opening, the shop's owners had already sold out of one popular model helicopter, and had helped children repair model planes, helicopters and cars.

"We had kids waiting for us to open. I couldn't believe it. They dragged their moms and dads and bought airplanes, bought cars," said co-owner Vince Caluori.

If Caluori and his partner, Todd Long, have their way, model lovers of all ages will have a designated place in the Valley to practice their hobby. They're working to get a grass runway installed near the Meadowbrook Farm Interpretive Center, where they said model airplane enthusiasts already fly informally. They'd also like to see a small track for remote control cars.

"If that goes well, it'll be a nice little attraction here in North Bend. It'll be one of the nicest flying fields here in the state-certainly with a great view," Caluori said.

They hope to get more young people interested in taking up hobbies; Long plans to give flying lessons once or twice a week when the weather warms up.

"It would be fun to teach people how to fly. I'll close up shop early, put up 'gone flying' signs," he said.

Calouri sees value in encouraging children to become hobbyists.

"Buy your kid a hobby, not a toy. It makes such a difference in the long run. You give them a toy and they get tired of playing with it. You give them a hobby and it's life-long," Caluori said.

He and Long are testaments to that idea. At about eight years old, Caluori started modeling with Stromberg solid kits. He went on to an aeronautical engineering degree and a 38-year career in the aerospace industry that included work on the Apollo program.

Long started playing with hand-launch gliders when he was 10 years old. He prototyped and test-flew helicopters in Japan, and served the Marine Corps as a helicopter mechanic during the first Gulf War.

About a decade ago, Long designed and started selling plans for a four-ounce indoor airplane.

"It was the first that could loop, roll, fly upside down inside a basketball court," he said.

He started importing parts from Germany to sell along with the plans, and his modeling business "just snowballed from there," he said.

Long sold models out of his home and his father's shop before opening up the Trucktown store two and a half years ago. He partnered up with Caluori, one of his best customers, and built up a strong Internet business. They ship all over the world, and frequently field phone calls from hobbyists in need of assistance.

"That's really helpful to a lot of people, especially to ones who are just starting out, to be able to talk to somebody who knows," Caluori said. His and Long's expertise enables them to come to the rescue of customers whose wrecked models indicate that they're still mastering their skills.

The new location will allow for more walk-in business and personal interaction with customers. Caluori and Long are happy to help, and to share their passion for modeling, which inspires them to rent out Snoqualmie Elementary School's gym some Friday nights to fly lightweight planes.

"In Europe they have a lot of competitions indoors, and it's a really big thing. We got intrigued by it, and we started flying like that," Caluori said.

Currently, about three or four modelers meet up to fly, but Caluori would like to get a more organized group together.

"What we'd like to do is get a bigger venue," he said. The gym has "too low a ceiling and is way too narrow. But it makes us really good pilots!"

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