From sweet treats to model cars, Esther's Hobby Shop celebrates 75 years in Millvale
By Bethany Hofstetter
Published: Wednesday, July 17, 2013, 9:00 p.m.
A walk through Esther's Hobby Shop, in Millvale, is a step back in time.
Model trains, model plane kits and toy rockets line the shelves and walls at the hobby shop, located on North Avenue in the heart of Millvale's shopping district, that this year is celebrating its 75th anniversary.
The shop opened in 1938 by Esther Mehler as a variety store that sold everything from toys to coffee and ice cream, and today is run by Esther's son, Bob, as a store that specializes in N scale model trains.
Mehler, 82, who lives in the two floors above the store, said his mother “busted her butt” to send him to school and provide for him, and “that's why her name is still on the place.”
Six days a week, Mehler puts on a shirt with his name embroidered on the right side and a train-themed tie and walks down the stairs into the store to greet customers.
Once a week, he hosts the Steeltown N Scalers, model train club, which meets at the store to work on model trains and share advice.
Mehler greets each person who walks through the door, some by name, and helps them discover or develop an interest in a hobby. With many, he shares his love of N scale model trains by directing them to a large train display in the front of the store.
Mehler said the store allowed him to raise his six children, and today he lives “on Social Security and love.”
The hobby shop survived through the end of the Great Depression, economic declines, declining popularity of hobby shops and flooding that often hits the borough.
During one of the worst floods, caused by Hurricane Ivan in 2004, one of Mehler's train displays crashed through the front windows and floated down the street in the current of the rising waters. But Mehler vowed to stay open.
Today he caters to train enthusiasts from neighboring towns to as far away as Dubai, in United Arab Emirates, and Germany.
Millvale community and economic development director Eddie Figas said the borough is home to many long-standing businesses including Esther's, Vecenie Distributing Company, Jerry Kitman Fine Furniture and Lincoln Pharmacy, which all are located within blocks of each other.
“In a way, we're spoiled by the fact that we have so many long-standing businesses within the community, and especially when you realize how difficult it is to be in business in today's economy and survive,” Figas said.
“It's really a testament to the hard work of Bob Mehler and his family and his mom and the business.”
Figas said the businesses are more than stores, they are destinations because of the character and merchandise they offer.
“With Bob and Esther's, you just don't find that many hobby stores anymore,” he said.
“Every small town had one 15, 20 years ago but they don't have them anymore.”
For Mehler, it is a love of the hobbies, community and customers that keeps him going and enjoying his job each day — one which he has no intention of ending in the near future.
“The undertaker has been told not to take me out until I've given the last customer their change,” he said with a laugh.
Bethany Hofstetter is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 724-772-6364 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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