Where have all the model shops gone?

One thing that I discovered during my recent spring clean was that almost all of my modelling and painting consumables were no longer useable. Paint had either dried out or the tops of the paint tins/pots were unable to be opened, and the liquid polystyrene glue had evaporated away. Having just completed HMS Thunderer I wanted to paint her … so I set off for the local branch of Hobbycraft to buy some supplies.

It was an almost completely wasted journey.

The Crayford branch of Hobbycraft had no liquid polystyrene glue and only a small section of Humbrol enamel paints. They did have some Tamiya and Revell acrylic paints on a small display stand, but my past experience with Tamiya paint has left me unwilling to use it again and the Revell paint seemed rather expensive. There was also a very small selection of Citadel paints on sale, but it seemed to consist of all the colours I would not be able to use. I was left with the feeling that the store was either waiting for new stock to be delivered or it was ceasing to sell these products.

I did manage to buy some Humbrol enamel paints (black and white matt that I use for undercoating my vehicles and figures) and some gloss varnish … but that was all. I am now left with the prospect of having to visit the Hobbycraft branch in Orpington and/or the branch of Games Workshop at Bluewater to buy what I need.

This set me thinking about the demise of the traditional model shop in the area where I live. I can remember being able to have a choice. There used to be a branch of Beatties in Lewisham as well as independent model shops in Eltham, Welling Models, and Bexley Village. I had a choice of four possible places to buy what I needed within a radius of five miles.

None of them still exists.

There is a specialist model shop in Bexleyheath, but it seems to concentrate on old, rare, and collectible models rather than the more run-of-the-mill stuff that I want to buy. Until recently there was a branch of Modelzone at Bluewater, but that shut when the company closed down.

So where have all the model shops gone? I suspect that part of the answer is commercial – they were just unable to generate sufficient turnover to remain viable in properties which were subject to continually rising rents, service charges, and business rates – and part is due to the changing leisure habits of teenage boys. The latter are far more likely to buy a pair of trainers or a computer game than to buy a model kit. The loss of local model shops can be made up in part by purchasing what you need via the Internet, but recent changes to Royal Mail regulations makes buying modelling paint online much more difficult.

I know that we are unlikely to see a resurgence of the local model shop, but it would help if their ‘replacements’ either carried a wide enough range of basic items in stock or were allowed to post them to you without worrying about breaking the law.


28 Comments on “Where have all the model shops gone?”

  1. Nigel Drury says:

    Rochester's model shop is still going, see http://clint-anythingbutaone.blogspot.co.uk/2013/11/rochester-games-models-and-railways.html for some pictures of their new larger premises.

  2. Nigel Drury,

    It is good to hear that the model shop in Rochester is still going strong. That said, it is still a 45 minute drive to get there so it does not really count as being local (i.e within five miles).

    That said, I will try to pay their new premises a visit ASAP.

    All the best,


  3. I was in WH Smiths at Meadowhall yesterday They have a Modelzone franchise in-shop to replace the one that closed down before Christmas.

    Didn't buy much though, bought everything I needed in the closing down sale !

  4. Dick Bryant says:

    The internet has contributed to the demise of the hobby shops as weel. This is why I went to acrylic craft paints a couple of years ago! They are also much cheaper than the modelling paints and work, in my opinion, just as well. I also use automobile primer spray paint (available in grey, white and black) for undercoating. Just do it outside.

  5. Dick Bryant says:

    Oops – soryy for hte double posting!

  6. Tim Gow says:

    It seems that we in the Sheffield area are quite fortunate. As well as the rather iffy presence the Wg Cdr refers to above, our Hobbycraft is rather better stocked then yours. Then there is a proper model shop (Marcway Models) and another (Antics) in the Cory centre, together with an actual Wargames shop (Wargames Emporium).

  7. Nigel Drury says:

    Hobbycraft seem to vary a lot between branches. The Maidstone branch used to be quite good.

  8. Mark Dudley says:

    We have a Boyes in Ilkley which stocks a good range of painting consumables.

  9. Wg Cdr Luddite,

    I was totally unaware that anything remained of Modelzone … and WHSmith would seem to be an ideal place for such a shop-within-a-shop. I wonder if they have similar outlets elsewhere?

    Thanks for this very useful information.

    All the best,


  10. Dick Bryant,

    I suspect that the growth of the Internet is a major factor … but I also think that the 'death' of many town centre shopping areas in the UK has not helped. From the comments that I have received, my experience seems quite common in the larger conurbations the south-east of England – where the costs of running a shop are very much higher than elsewhere – but less common outside of that area.

    I will probably have to follow your lead regarding undercoating using acrylic car primer spray cans and painting with craft paints as they are likely to be the best available options.

    All the best,


  11. Dick Bryant,

    No problem. I have sorted the situation out and deleted the second comment.

    All the best,


  12. Tim Gow,

    I suspect that Sheffield is particularly well served by model and wargames shops … and I am very envious!

    All the best,


  13. Mark Dudley,

    I have never heard of Boyes. Are they a chain of craft, art, or model shops … and do they have branches outside of Yorkshire?

    All the best,


  14. Nigel Drury,

    That is my experience as well. The branch of Hobbycraft in Crayford used to carry lots of modelling bits and pieces, but over time the amount of space allocated to kits, paint, glues, and modelling tools has been drastically reduced.

    All the best,


  15. If so large a market place as Great Britain can not support model shops, one has to fear for the situation in Kiwiland! At that I know of two model shops that quit trading several years ago, but another that that added wargaming supplies to its original (and continuing) trade in comics and graphic novels. The owner is a well-known war gamer in this part of the world.

    I have strong suspicions as to what is going on, and affects our country as much as yours. In respect of the delivery of the Queen's Mail, whoever the economic dunce is who came up with the present regime deserves richly the fate Frederick the Great wished upon the Prime Minister the Earl of Bute.

    The example having been set, I know that our own rogues' gallery that calls itself a government will enact the same stupidity.

    David Cameron and John Key – two persons, who, like Rowan Atkinson's 'GERald', people emigrate to avoid. Really…!

  16. Nigel Drury says:

    Plenty of paint etc. at Cavalier, Broadside and SELWG on quite a few stands.

  17. Archduke Piccolo,

    In theory the UK should be able to support a network of model shops … but it can't for a variety of reasons. I suspect that New Zealand is in the same – or an even worse – situation.

    The Post Office has introduced regulations that restrict the volume of paint that can be sent by post. (It works out to be about three Humbrol tinlets!) There is a campaign to get the Post Office to change its mind, but like most big organisations it is resistant to going back on its decisions.

    I cannot comment about the political leadership in New Zealand, but our current PM is probably the best of a pretty poor bunch.

    All the best,


  18. Nigel Drury,

    Very true … and I hope to visit at least one of the shows you mention in your comment.

    All the best,


  19. arthur1815 says:

    The Kingston WH Smiths now has a Modelzone franchise, but it has a much more limited selection.
    Elys in Wimbledon carries some kits and paints. The Entertainer toy shop used to have a quite a few kits, but the number seems to be decreasing rapidly.

    Dick Bryant's suggestion of acrylic craft paints is a good idea, especially as there is a good artist supplies shop – Fielders – only a short bus ride away.

    The nearest model shop I know is situated on the outskirts of Tolworth, too far away for a casual visit…

  20. Arthur1815,

    A tie-up between Modelzone and WHSmith sounds like a good idea … and I will see if there is such a franchise in my local area.

    The use of acrylic craft paint does make a lot of sense, and I will be investigating this option further.

    All the best,


  21. WH Smiths bought ModelZone so we should be seeing more in store soon.

    The Kingston one is OK, it sells Humbrol Enamels for one thing and some scenics. No plastic model filler, though, which I use a lot of for my figure bases.

    I am lucky in that I am half way between Addlestone Models and Dorking Models both of which are old style shops and still (I hope) going strong. I've been going to Addlestone since 1968 although it's on it's third premises since then!

  22. Trebian says:

    Northampton has the very fine “Wellingborough Road Model Shop”, which is still hanging on.

    Looking at how Hobbycraft has changed over recent years it looks like they've done their best to kill off model shops, then having done so got out of the market. If WRMS didn't have regular patronage from Railway modellers and remote control car and plane enthusiasts I suspect we wouldn't have it anymore.

  23. Legatus Hedlius,

    I was not aware of the fact that WHSmith had bought Modelzone … but it does make retailing/commercial sense.

    It sounds as if your local area is fairly well served when it comes to model shops … and I am suitably envious,

    All the best,


  24. Trebian,

    I suspect that Hobbycraft are following the policy that you have outlined … but I cannot work out why they would want to get rid of the opposition and then not exploit the advantage they have.

    It is the demise of generalist model shops that does concern me. The day of the specialist non-GW wargames shop is coming to a close, and it is the ordinary High Street model shop that filled the gap … but even they are disappearing in my locale.

    All the best,


  25. Nigel Drury says:

    Rymans does craft acrylic paint and brushes that are fine for terrain and bases though the paint pigment may not be fine enough for figures. Poundland does various ready mixed fillers to use on bases.

    I had heard that Hobbycraft stock varied a lot due to them leaving stocking decisions to the local managers so it could be worth talking to the staff.

  26. Nigel Drury,

    I never thought to look in Rymans for acrylic craft paint … but I will now. I visit the various pound shops and will look out for their ready-mixed fillers as well.

    I visited the Hobbycraft branch in Orpington this afternoon, and managed to buy everything that I needed. I did ask a member of staff whether or not Hobbycraft were going to continue to stock model paint, glue, and tools ,.. but she did not know and there was no duty manager available to answer my question.

    All the best,


  27. alastair says:

    Legatus mentioned Dorking models…a fascinatingly ramshackle store stacked high with precarious towers of 1:72 scale figures and models and run by the grumpiest shopkeeper I've ever met!

    Funnily enough I passed it on the way to a meeting this afternoon and noticed it's now only open on Thurs-Fri. Not a good sign…

  28. Alastair,

    The Dorking shop sounds like the Fawlty Towers of the model shop world!

    I must try to pay it a visit the next time I am in that area … on a Thursday, Friday, or Saturday!

    All the best,


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