Business Profile Selling memories past and future

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Some people never grow up. But when they do, sometimes the kid in them tags along anyway. Such is the case with Frank Kozuch.

As a child, Kozuch enjoyed trains and engaged in many hobbies. Now grown up Kozuch brought the kid in him along for the ride into adulthood and with it, an old-time hobby shop to Old Town.

Kozuch, owner of the newly opened Whistle Stop Hobbies shop at South Royal and King streets has sought to create a 19th century place where scaled-down model trains capture the imaginations of children, bringing the larger world to them.  The small shop harkens back to a time when the whole family would get into the act of building the train set, with its small town landmarks and charm.

“I sell memories, past and future ,” he said, “the memory of a train under a Christmas tree.”

His prized item?  It’s the 1909 Bing set, for the true train aficionado. For $10,000, it could find its way under the tree this Christmas.
There’s no shortage of toys to set the mind free in this place: World War II model kits, miniature Porsches, Ferraris, Corvettes and Mini Coopers, slot cars at 1/43 rd scale, mahogany tanks, planes and ships, remote controlled boats and battery-operated planes.

Power-propelled, water-powered, air-powered – they’re all here, as are the remote-controlled mice and spiders, which are big sellers because, as he noted, “they keeps pets active.”

By Christmas, Kozuch hopes to gain approval to install a sidewalk step-up and park bench so small children can press their noses against the glass to peer at the seasonal train display. Norman Rockwell could not have painted it better.

Frank Kozuch has his own memories. A collector of trains since pre-school days, he began attending hobby shows with his father a decade or so ago to parcel off pieces from his collections. “It grew to the point where I decided that what I really wanted in life was to open a hobby shop,” he said.

So last year, Kozuch traveled for 10 months up and down the Eastern seaboard building his inventory, which, he enthused, was great, because “everyone has a story.” The only downside was, “you never get to finish the story.”

The transformation of his vision to reality – a hobby store with planes, trains and automobiles, and all manner of model kits – got an essential boost last winter when Tom Hulfish, a commercial real estate broker with McEnearney Associates in Alexandria, helped Whistle Stop Hobbies find the perfect home at 130 South Royal Street – with its fire station across the street and proximity to playgrounds. With a bank loan and affiliations with the Chamber of Commerce, the Visitors Center and the King Street Metro Enterprise Team (KSMET), he was off and running.

Then, after knocking out the interior walls of the former antique store, applying a fresh coat of paint, and installing a shiny new wooden floor, the realization of his vision became possible.

On a recent hot summer day, Kozuch gave a visitor a cool tour of his delightful, if not dizzying, array of inventory, including the Harry Potter Lego sets, the Corgy die-cast military planes, the World War II tanks, the vintage trains from three eras -from 1900 to 1940,  from 1945 to 1969, and from 1970 to present.

His train collection, predominantly from the ’50s and ’60s, includes Silver Clouds, Santa Fe’s, Commodore Vanderbilts and Boston and Albany freight sets.

Then there’s the 1909 Bing, procured from the family of a McLean doctor, who received it as a birthday present when he turned 9 years old. As he often does, Kozuch urged the doctor’s son to keep it in the family – he even offers repair services for old Lionel’s and American Flyers.

But the owners of this set – amazing for its completeness, coming with the original set box and shipping straw – ultimately decided it was time to sell.

Besides being an inveterate collector, Kozuch is equally devoted to the community – his first two projects for coming months are Pinewood derby clinics for the Cub Scouts and Christmas gift wrapping by the Girl Scouts in which the proceeds would be theirs to keep.

And no doubt, every child will have his eye on that 1909 Bing.

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