Craig Thomas Turned His Hobby Into The Largest Train Store In Southern Delaware
“Every day is like Christmas” at SeaSide Hobbies on Daisey Street in Ocean View, according to its owner, Craig Thomas — yet it’s Thanksgiving Day he looks forward to most each year. This was the day when Craig and his father shared their fondest hobby together: assembling and running a fully functioning train set that spanned nearly half their living room. It was a family tradition that Craig and his father, Richard, enjoyed for some 40 years, until Richard’s passing in 2011.
“He’s no longer here, but his trains are, and I will keep that memory alive as long as I can,” Craig said.
Craig’s train layout has navigated its way to the garage, thanks to its sheer size — a collection that features about 700 pieces in all. Thomas still owns every train he played with as a boy, many of which he received as Christmas gifts.
“It’s a lot of great memories you can never take away,” Thomas said.
These days, he also rekindles those memories through the customers who visit SeaSide Hobbies, the store he purchased the same year his dad passed away.
“SeaSide Hobbies is absolutely the best place to shop for anything trains,” said customer Daniel Burris. “Craig and his family are great people. There’s always something new to see; the selection is great, and the prices are fair. I’m so addicted to this place, I go weekly!”
Craig said his store continues to grow in popularity among train enthusiasts throughout the region, so we thought we would sit down with Thomas, to determine just what makes his quaint shop tick (or chug, as it were).
There’s More To Our Story With Seaside Hobbies Owner Craig Thomas
What has made SeaSide Hobbies successful?
We do our own repairs, and 75% of my sales are preowned material and collector pieces. So I’m really not competing too much with online stores. I sell nothing online. I don’t advertise online. If you don’t come into my store, you’re not going to see it.
How do you see the industry growing, moving forward?
It will be gradual, but it will continue to grow because I believe when older guys pass away, and their kids find their trains, that will rekindle something they remember. Then, they can build on the hobby and share it with their kids.
Was there a specific routine your father used that you follow to relive that tradition?
As soon as Thanksgiving dinner is done, the base layout went down. The next morning is when it started coming together. We changed it up every year. At first, it was just a half a sheet of plywood, four feet by four feet. It went all the way to 8 feet by 15 or 16 feet at the end. It took up the whole center of the living room. We always got something new every Christmas — a train set, an operating accessory. It drove my mom, Shirleen, crazy because she lost her living room. But she dealt with it pretty good for the month that it was up.
How does your mother feel now when she sees that train layout?
It brings a tear to her eye. It’s a good ol’ family tradition.
Story by Victor Fernandes
Photo by Grant L. Gursky