The Early Edition·Still Standing

Richmond hobby shop survives through 3 locations, 30 years

People still want to touch, feel and browse — and talk to the experts at Imperial Hobbies.

Personal service and selection have kept customers coming to Imperial Hobbies for decades

Francis Munroe, owner of Imperial Hobbies, at his shop in Richmond near the airport. (Jennifer Chen)

British Columbians looking for the perfect tool or shade of paint for their model cars and planes can likely find what they need at Imperial Hobbies.

Customers aren't likely to happen upon the grey, nondescript building by chance, but that hasn't stopped the shop from gathering a loyal following. 

"There's a guy we have that comes from, I think, Kamloops, and he comes here roughly once every two months," said owner Francis Munroe.

"It's his little Mecca visit to us."

The shop moved to a location near the airport in Richmond about 10 years ago, the third move in as many decades, and doesn't get a lot of people in who happen to be walking past. 

It's a bit of a "destination" location, Munroe said.  A few customers browsing in the store said they've been coming twice a week for the past 15 years.

Imperial Hobbies has models and tools, games, comics and more. This is the store's third location in Richmond, and its largest. (Jennifer Chen)

Getting a feel for the items

The shop is lined with shelves that tower over the tallest customer. Those shelves are stacked with models, from ships to planes to armies.

By the wall, the comic book section is bursting with the latest editions from DC and Marvel, as well as lesser known titles.

"When a person comes in, they like to touch the product and get a feel of it," said Munroe, offering one explanation for why online shopping hasn't had a huge impact on his business.  

The shop has a vast selection, including diecast models which are ready out of the box, although most people prefer to assemble their own models. 

"You've got to make sure you have the right products for them, or else they're not going to keep coming back," said Munroe with a chuckle.

The comic book section is bursting with the latest editions from DC and Marvel, as well as lesser known titles. (Jennifer Chen/CBC)

Staff on hand

Munroe said he keeps customers happy by stocking a lot of options, and can put in custom orders if he doesn't already carry the product.

"They want to make sure that what they're buying is the right product, and with the staff being on site, you've got the expertise to ask them what they need or need to do to achieve their final results on a model or a game," he said.

He has at least one games expert, a comics expert and one very good modeller on his payroll.

Imperial Hobbies has a big selection of tabletop games. (Jennifer Chen)

'I want to be a boss'

Munroe wasn't always a hobby shop owner.  He opened Imperial Hobbies in Richmond in 1986, after he lost his job at an engineering firm. 

"I sat down with my wife one day and I just said, 'You know what, I'm tired of being told I'm a good worker, but I want to be a boss,'" he said.

He was already a hobbyist, so he took courses to learn more about running a business.

More than 30 years later, he has no regrets about the career change. 

"Customers will come to us," he said.

"We've just proven ourselves for so long."

Still Standing is a series about the small businesses in the Lower Mainland that have managed to stay open despite the challenges. Listen every second Tuesday on CBC Radio The Early Edition.

About the Author

Jennifer Chen worked as a radio producer at CBC Vancouver for 14 years. She is relocating to Ottawa and recovering from her road trip.