It was 1955. A few miles down the road from Bea and Jay DeArmond's place in Anaheim, armies of construction workers were transforming an ordinary orange grove into a magical place called Disneyland.
The DeArmonds, however, were much too busy to notice. They were bringing to life a dream of their own on what had been a 3-acre chicken ranch. Their vision may not have been as grand as Walt Disney's, but the goal was the same: to build a place where families could spend the day having fun together and--not incidentally--spend some money as well.
"A hobby family is a happy family," they declared, later immortalizing the slogan in a plaque. And what could make hobby families happier, they decided, than a city full of shops catering to their favorite pastimes?
Today, Hobby City features 23 shops on 6 acres, including a tree-shaped teddy bear store, a doll shop and museum housed in a half-scale replica of the White House, a log cabin full of needlework supplies, and a rock and gem shop with real geodes embedded in its facade.
If all that sounds a tad cluttered, a bit corny--well, it is. But on the bright side, you'll find no mainstream mansard roofs here, no cloned rows of nail salons and frozen-yogurt parlors. Its replicas aside, Hobby City is an authentic, a one-of-a-kind place.
A trip to this little enclave is like a ride on a time machine. Sure, the rock shop does some business in New Age metaphysical crystals, and the "Official Cabbage Patch Kids Adoption Center" wouldn't have been around 30 years ago. But the atmosphere is still mid-'50s: relaxed, innocent and optimistic. Feeling stressed? Take up a hobby: stamp collecting, goldfish, model airplanes or cake decorating. It was all so simple then.
These days the place is a little shopworn. "The Little Depot" model train shop has lost some letters from its sign, for example. But the kids won't notice. They'll be too busy tugging at your sleeve, asking you to please buy them whatever their wide eyes are focused on at any given moment.
"But we didn't come here to buy!" whispered one harried father to his preschooler last week as they visited the Cabbage Patch Adoption Center. "We just came to look, and then we'll buy later." Unfazed, the child kept tugging and pointing.
Adults, too, can fall under the Hobby City spell.
Grown men have been known to sit on the floor in the doll museum, pointing out the various costumes on the G.I. Joe dolls and reminiscing about the uniforms they once wore themselves. Take dad into the Little Depot or Century Models and he's almost sure to get a look of longing in his eyes.
Each shop is independently owned and operated by a member of the DeArmond clan, with three generations of the family now involved in the operation. Jay died several years ago, but Bea, 75, is still active in the doll shop. She still lives in the family home, upstairs in the White House replica.
Prices are competitive, and Hobby City offers classes in piano and a plethora of arts and crafts. The selection in most of the shops is fairly extensive, although the owner's individual taste may not match yours. The stamp and coin shop, for example, is heavy on the instant-collectible commemoratives but offers much less in the way of serious numismatics. The Flintlock, "an old-fashioned gun store," is just the place if you're planning to re-enact a Civil War battle, not so hot if you're after something a little more current. And the pet store has fish, birds and hamsters, but no dogs or cats.
The Cabbage Patch Adoption Center isn't nearly as busy as it was a few years ago, when Hobby City imported "Kids" from all over the world to keep up with the demand. Now the emphasis is on the pricier ($135 and up) soft-sculpture dolls. But you can satisfy your own children for less with some of the many outfits and accessories (from wet suits to mermaid costumes to crutches and casts) available here. Or you can bring your family's "Kid" along for a free checkup by one of the "doctors" on duty.
Other shops include a piano store, an antique shop, a clock store, a miniatures shop, an Indian trading post, a seashell and driftwood shop, a children's clothing store and an arts and crafts studio.
The DeArmonds want you to spend the day here, and you'll need to if you want to go into each and every shop. Home cooking is available at Hobby City's solitary eatery, "The Restaurant Next Door to the White House," or you can bring a snack to enjoy at the picnic tables while the kids ride the Hobby City Choo Choo (weekends only).
HOBBY CITY AT A GLANCE
Address: 1238 S. Beach Blvd., Anaheim (on the border of Stanton), two miles south of Knott's Berry Farm. (714) 527-2323.
Hours: 10 a.m. to 6 p.m., 7 days a week.
Number of stores: 23.
Department stores: None.