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November 16, 2000|MICHELLE MALTAIS,

Not everyone has a hobby. Many of us do collect stuff--stamps, foreign coins, figurines, bills--but often without any order. Several Web sites offer the hobbyist in all of us some structure and advice.

Most, such as ( and Internet Hobbies (, cater to pastimes ranging from building models to bird-watching. Unlike buying items that require trying on or tasting, buying items for hobbies is less sensory. Internet Hobbies features mostly models but also offers items such as paint and puzzles.

Best site to shop--and buy: stands out as the most complete, from astronomy to tools and supplies. It covers 11 categories including coins/currency, models, radio control and rocketry. Buyers can find thousands of items, interesting articles, hints and how-to video clips. Plus, if you're buying a gift for a collector or hobbyist, the site offers gift suggestions by price range. And for about $4 more, you can get the gift wrapped and include a personalized card.

Convenience: Unbeatable. Saves the time, gas and energy you would expend going from toy store to specialty store seeking that telescope, model plane or rocket for each of the hobbyists on your shopping list.

Customer service: EHobbies has e-mail customer service for issues such as billing, privacy and help with items that need assembly. It also has a toll-free number as well as a number for international buyers.

Shipping and return policy: Regular ground shipping takes three to seven days, although the company warns that delivery time is slower during the December holidays, by as much as a week by some estimates. As far as price, if the order is more than $100, shipping is free. For those under $100, EHobbies charges a flat fee of $6.99.

EHobbies accepts returned items within 30 days after the shipment has been received as long as the item is in "as-new" condition and in the original packaging including warranty cards.

How it compares with offline: There is a delayed-gratification factor to contend with. When you buy a model train online, you have to wait a week or longer before you can lay down the track. But buyers can still browse and don't have to contend with store hours, finding parking or distracted clerks.

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