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Once a one-stop shop for model trains, Whistle Stop Toy & Hobby in Fairlington now caters to all hobbyists

Frank Kozuch sits behind the counter Whistle Stop Toy & Hobby with the agreeable air of a man who’d rather talk than sell.

But, he tells ALXnow, sales right now are better than ever.

The owner of the hobby shop in Fairlington Centre says that the key to his success has been adapting to the times. Gone are the days he mostly sold model trains: today, Whistle Stop Toy & Hobby caters to more hobbyists with varied interests, including board games, puzzles, kites, rockets, models and figurines.

“Too many people in life want to tell you what you should do,” Kozuch said. “Your hobby should never be that. It should be what you want.”

Kozuch’s lifelong hobby is trains. He got his first train set when he was just a year-and-a-half old, and later built his first large set on a ping pong table in the basement of his parents’ home.

He abandoned the pursuit as he got older and it was not until his mid-30s he became reacquainted with model trains. By that time, he’d earned a degree in computer science from the University of Maryland and was working as a government contractor building computer systems for the Department of Defense and the Census Bureau, among other departments.

He began selling model trains and equipment at train shows in 1993, slowly expanding these operations until he opened a brick-and-mortar shop in 2005. Even with the changes, the shop has nearly everything a model train enthusiast could ask for, from complete train sets to model buildings, trees and grass.

“The store is 85% different than when I first opened in 2005,” Kozuch said. “I wish I could sell 100% trains, but you have to be able to expand and change.”

Prompted by the pandemic, Kozuch added more supplies to cater to to the influx of parents who needed activities to do with their kids while stuck at home together. This surge in demand buoyed Whistle Stop Toy & Hobby, like other hobby shops across the country, when other retail stores were struggling.

“The government told them to stay home and they bought puzzles, models, and LEGOs for the kids,” Kozuch said, “anything with a lot of pieces to keep junior happy for two or three days.”

Families were not the only group coming to Kozuch, however. Many adults came to the store for the first time, nostalgic for and ready to dive back into childhood hobbies.

“When I come in here,” one customer told him, “this puts me back into a real calm place when I was eight years old building models.”

Kozuch says building models is not just calming — it stirs the imagination.

“If it’s trains and you see a purple, yellow, green, wherever train you want, you like it even though it may never have existed in real life,” Kozuch said. “But who cares? You like it and add it to your collection, make it what you want it to be. Trains are just for me, but other people are into models or rockets.”

Others prefer model cars — a more affordable alternative to buying up real cars, especially in Alexandria, where he mostly sells miniature exotic Porsches, Ferraris and Lamborghinis. He also sells large Millenium Falcons and other Star Wars LEGO sets, as well as a variety of other games and toys available at big-box stores such as Target.

“If you’re coming in because you want a cheap price, you’re not my customer,” Kozuch said. “If you want to come in to dive into your hobby, hopefully I’ll give you a good experience.”

Whistle Stop Toy & Hobby is open 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. every Monday through Friday, 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. on Saturday and 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Sunday.

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