Growing up as a kid in Pennsauken, the holiday season was one of the best times of the year for Barry Koehl.
Sure, a harness of reindeer pulled Santa's sleigh overflowing with gifts aplenty up to Koehl's every year—but there was another high point of the season at his home.
“My father put up a Tyco train set every year right around Thanksgiving. It took up a lot of the living room—roughly about 7 by 10 feet,” says the Moorestown resident. “Then, when I got older, I had my own platform with trains. That’s when I acquired my train habit!”
Take a walk down Camden Avenue in Moorestown, a few feet past Lenola Avenue, and there in an old storefront crammed with an array of trains, planes and automobiles, you'll find Koehl, 46, and his fiancé, Barbara Gould, 43, owners of BNB Hobby & Train Depot.
The “old-school” hobby shop is a remnant of a popular pastime from the days of yore, before kids became more attuned to computers, TVs and other electrical gadgets.
Sitting in his car at the McDonald’s drive-through lane at the corner of Camden and Lenola avenues one day, Koehl noticed a sign directly across the street that read “Office for Rent.” Memories of hearing trains roll around his childhood track came rumbling back, and Koehl decided to start a business that would recreate those experiences on a daily basis—although neither he nor Gould had ever worked in retail.
"I always wanted to open a hobby shop,” Koehl says of that pivotal day in 2006. “I talked to the bank, and a month later, I opened the store."
Both Koehl and Gould also work full-time jobs for other companies. Koehl still works for Hill-Rom in Pennsauken, a supplier of medical equipment, where he’s been for the last 30 years. Gould is a nurse with Samaritan Healthcare and Hospice.
The intricate track sets and elaborate wiring that go into the setups take an enormous amount of time and patience. But for Koehl, it’s what’s most enjoyable to him.
“Setting up the tracks and trains takes me back to my childhood,” he says. “And it’s what a lot of our regulars say too.”
To spread interests and keep the locomotive hobby thriving, Koehl holds weekly show-and-tell nights for about 15 model-train hobbyists, who swap ideas and talk trains. Many of his customers are serious collectors, which can be few and far between for a hobby that has seen a decline in new fans. Occasionally, they will “go on the road,” visiting someone’s home to see a new configuration.
According to Koehl, customers range in age from teens, to a couple folks in their 70s who’ve been collectors their entire lives.
Koehl’s trains start at $150 for starter sets. Besides selling trains and tracks, BNB Hobby also has puzzles, craft games, paint-by-number sets and remote-controlled vehicles like cars and planes. Surprisingly, the store’s biggest sellers are plastic models.
“We have models of cars and tanks and things like that. But the kids love the action figures: Dracula, Spider-Man…” says Koehl. “I try to keep as many of the popular ones in stock for them, even though we are not a big store.”
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