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J&C Hobbies owners closing up shop, looking forward to retirement

| Friday, April 7, 2017, 11:00 p.m.
Joyce Hanz | For the Tribune-Review
Chuck and Betty Pusateri with their dog, Jancee, in their store, J.C. Hobbies, in Penn Hills.
Joyce Hanz | For the Tribune-Review
A fixture at J.C. Hobbies in Penn Hills, Jancee, an 8-year-old golden retriever belonging to the store's owners relaxes as shopper Barb Amrhein of Dormont checks out the merchandise.

Chuck and Betty Pusateri of Penn Hills haven't had a proper vacation in more than eight years.

But that's about to change.

They have operated J&C Hobbies since 1984. The 7,000-square-foot store tucked along the backside of the Penn Hills Municipal Shopping Center on Frankstown Road is set to close April 30.

“It's time to retire and enjoy life,” Betty said — envisioning gardening in her future.

Although the couple will take away countless hobby-filled memories, they stress that spending time together without the rigors of running a business will be welcome.

“We hope to travel out West, up and down the coast,” she said.

Longtime customer Walter Greene, 73, of Penn Hills said he has visited J&C “hundreds of times” and will miss the store for several reasons.

“I am sad to see them go (mainly because) I can't run up to the hobby shop quickly. I will have to order online now,” said Greene, president of the Murrysville Area Radio Controlled Society. “I would go to the store and spend an hour there visiting — the social aspect of it was nice.”

Greene, whose group flies radio controlled model airplanes. has six models ready to fly at anytime.

“They are great business owners with good customer service, and I consider them friends,” he said. “It's not an easy business to operate.”

Family effort

The Pusateris, married 43 years, raised four children during their hobby business years. Daughter Jeanene Begley still works alongside her parents.

“All of our children put in time with the business,” Betty said.

Their beloved golden retriever, Jancee, also puts his time in. The dog accompanies the couple to work daily, acting as the unofficial store ambassador. Customers love him, often stopping in for a visit and bringing him treats, the couple said.

Jancee's name was the result of a store sponsored contest in which the Pusateri's solicited name ideas from customers. One customer suggested combining the J and C from the store name. Jancee followed in the footsteps of the couple's other dog, J.C., who died about 10 years ago.

“Our dogs have always been such a part of the store that they both have had their own following,” Betty said.

From hobby to business

Chuck left his job as a Navy photographer in 1957, then headed up the photo department at Pittsburgh Suburban Newspapers for about a decade.

His interest in radio-controlled airplanes, which took him to competitions up and down the East Coast and into Canada, led to the creation of J&C Hobbies.

“Our first store was in the sunporch of our home,” Betty said.

Their first brick-and-mortar store opened in 1993 at 100 A Street behind McCullough Tires on Universal Road in Penn Hills.

“We thought it was large enough to last forever,” Betty said. “But within a short time, we were expanding into other areas of the building. It soon became evident that we needed even more space.”

J&C Hobbies appeals to the beginner and advanced hobbyist. Not a “craft” store, but a hobby store specializing in radio-controlled airplanes, helicopters, boats, cars, trains and more. Repairs are offered on site.

“I will miss Betty and Chuck — they are like my second parents,” said part-time robotic technician Joe Dantonio.

Seeking a bigger space, The Pusateris moved to their current location in 1997.

At the height of the business, they operated four stores. A J&C Hobbies store was at Pittsburgh Mills, along with another race track space there and a seasonal Christmas storefront that featured a “Holiday Train Depot.” The Mills stores closed after eight years, leaving the Franks‑town Road store as their sole focus.

“It has been a long and happy time in our lives,” Betty said.

Internet's impact

While J&C Hobbies has outlived other hobby shops, the couple has witnessed the evolution and impact that online shopping has had on businesses like theirs.

“The interest is there, but we are fighting the internet,” Betty said.

A “Retirement Sale” is ongoing during April, offering discounts of 40 to 75 percent.

The family hosted a free customer appreciation lunch and party at the store April 1.

“It's sad in a way,” Betty said. “It's all I've done. I will miss the customers.”

Joyce Hanz is a freelance writer.

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