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Citing competition with internet giant Amazon and dwindling interest in hobbies coupled with a flood-prone location, one of Wilson’s staple family businesses has announced it will soon close its doors for good.
“It’s a sign of the times,” said Wayne Sidelinger, owner of The Antique Barn and Hobby Shop.
Started in 1968 primarily as an antique sales outlet, the business has been exclusively a hobby shop for two decades.
“It was in the paper the other day that the number of businesses that closed nationwide because of Amazon was 6,900,” Sidelinger said. “That’s appreciable and it will get worse this year until they are all gone.”
Sidelinger said it is impossible to compete with internet sales that offer consumers the opportunity to have purchases delivered directly to their front door.
“It’s not going to improve locally. It’s going to get worse,” Sidelinger said.
Up until two years ago, he said business was good.
“We were making money, but it’s going down,” Sidelinger said. “Ten years ago it was thriving and 18 years ago we were a victim of Floyd and we had 7 feet of water in here for a couple of weeks.
“So we started from scratch again and of course, we had two more 500-year floods this past year, Matthew and in April this one that didn’t even have a name, which closed us up for a month or two because of that, so the high water that we have had contributes to thinking on this thing. There is no doubt about it.”
Sidelinger’s son and grandson help with the business.
“They are both in the business, but not being a viable business, they are not interested in continuing it,” Sidelinger said. “Selling out is the only solution.”
Everything in the store is 25 percent off, plus a regular discount of 20 percent.
“You are getting an appreciable discount.,” Sidelinger said. “We still have a pretty good stock, but it is starting to thin out. In two weeks we have depleted a lot of it. We hope to be out by the end of the year, so Dec. 31 is our goal to have an empty store. What we will do after that, I am not sure. We have antiques over in the other building that we may move over here and sell them out too to get rid of them.”
With no existing hobby shop in the area, modelers have a chance to stock up.
“Even going online, they can’t get it this cheap,” Sidelinger said.
Sidelinger said the plan is to tear down the familiar red, barn-like structures.
“Being in a flood zone like we are, that has bearing on the future of the buildings,” said Sidelinger, who will be 90 years old in two months. “Being built with old lumber, that’s the only value they have now is having them torn down to get the lumber. All four buildings are built out of old heart pine timbers.”
Only the main 3,000 square-foot building is being used for the modeling merchandise. The other three buildings are storage.
Suffering collateral damage with the closure of the business is the Wilson Area Railroad Modelers Club, which has maintained a massive set of train tracks in the entire top floor of the main building.
“It’s probably one of the finer layouts in this part of the country and people come from all over to look at it,” Sidelinger said. “Unfortunately, that’s going to go when the business goes down.
“The club now is looking for another location somewhere in the area. Members are all the way from Durham to Greenville to Virginia and on down.”
Started in 1985, there are about 25 to 30 members of the club who meet on Saturdays to run trains.
“A good portion of what is upstairs is stuff that I built,” Sidelinger said. “I’m into trains. That is my thing.”
On Wednesday, Sidelinger walked around the maze of tracks where complex bridges, tunnels, factories, a steel mill, a power plant, small businesses, company houses and cities line the routes.
“When I first built it, it was all lighted in all of it. There were two or three hundred lights in it, but over the years the bulbs have burned out and I never thought I would have to take them down and redo them all,” Sidelinger said.
There is the replica of the bridge over the Diablo Canyon in New Mexico.
“I took some pictures of it when I was out there and I came home and built that,” Sidelinger said. “Some of these things are time-consuming like that bridge and this trestle. It all takes time to build all that .”
Then there is the massive Canadian Pacific Railway bridge over Mountain Creek in British Columbia made from tiny bass wood timbers.
“With the pictures I was able to duplicate that bridge right down to the last degree,” Sidelinger said. “That is an exact replica of that bridge.”
There is one gap in the layout where the bridge collapsed.
“I had a suspension bridge up there, but my cats got up there one night,” Sidelinger said. “They didn’t like suspension bridges.”
It takes one train 20 minutes to go around the entire track.
“This whole layout is automatically signaled. There is about $10,000 they spent putting that signaling system in,” Sidelinger said. “It’s run just like the railroad is up here. All this is going to go, and it’s a shame.”
“Normally there were 500 cars in this yard here,” Sidelinger said. “It has taken a lot of time and a lot of people to get it all together. It’s been an evolution of scenery and detail. Nothing is original from when we started. Everything is different.”
“There have been many hours of trains running on this thing for 30 or 40 years,” Sidelinger said. “It’s a shame all the work that went into that. It‘s kind of sad when you think that all of this is going to be torn down and everything is going to disappear, but I would rather do it while I am still around rather than let somebody else do it.”
The Antique Barn and Hobby Shop is located at 2810 Forest Hills Road SW. The business can be reached at 252-237-6778 and by email at email@example.com.