A significant and memorable portion of my youth was spent at Ever Ready Sports and Hobby Center in Bloomfield Center, New Jersey.
Even if you don't hail from New Jersey, you might be acquainted with Bloomfield Center. It's the location of Holsten's Old Fashioned Ice Cream Parlor, for example, the confectionery shop seen in the finale of The Sopranos (1999 - 2007).
Back in the seventies, the Ever Ready Sports and Hobby Center was just a short walk from my house (at 7 Clinton Road, in Glen Ridge), and my Dad and I would often visit the shop after school during the week, or on Saturday mornings.
The proprietors of Ever Ready -- WWI vets Robert J. Hempstead (1924 - 2002) and Edward Grabowski -- had been in business a long time when I first encountered them, and were old, white-haired men who watched children in their story very closely; very carefully. They had been in business together forty years in 1986, when I was a young patron there. I visited the shop regularly from the years 1976 to to 1988...when I moved away to Virginia to attend college.
The store was not large. It was quite small, actually. But nonetheless it was a wonderland of hobby excitement, especially to a kid of the disco decade. The store featured a full-line of HO scale trains, and N-Gage trains. It also had a wide selection of radio-controlled aircraft and modeler's tools.
In the back of the store, in the long tunnel leading to the back parking lot exit, there was a packed rack of books and magazines. There, you could find issues of Military Modeler, and Aviation Magazine, for example.
But of course, I was a "space" or sci-fi kid, thanks to Space:1999 (1975-1977) and Star Wars (1977). And Ever Ready Sports and Hobby Center always had one portion of one aisle devoted to sci-fi model kits.
For example, one day, in mid-1978, I saw that the store was stocking on its shelves the kits from a new TV series called Battlestar Galactica (1978-1979). The series had not yet even premiered, and yet here I was -- a bouncing eight-year old kid -- looking for the first time at something called a "Cylon Raider."
At that point, I had no idea what a Cylon Raider even was, but I knew I wanted one.
In the year 1979, Star Trek: The Motion Picture premiered, and Ever Ready Sports and Hobby stocked the kit of my dreams: the movie version of the U.S.S. Enterprise with "rainbow" decals (to simulate warp drive), and a fully-lit saucer section.
I was nine at the time, and the price tag of 20.00 dollars seemed absolutely exorbitant. It would have taken me weeks with my allowance of 5 dollars to save up for it. But my father -- on one of our regular visits -- sprung for the kit, and I was thrilled. At that point, I wouldn't even touch it. I wanted my Dad to build it for me, and he did.
In the eighties, I really got hot and heavy into building models kits. Ever Ready Sports and Hobby Shop contributed to my "helicopter phase" in 1983 by stocking kits for Airwolf and Blue Thunder.
To my delight, the store also stocked rare Japanese model kit imports, and I collected and built a full set of Yamato/Star Blazers spaceship mini-kits. I still have a few of these in my home office, today, that my father painted for me.
It's funny how childhood sort of slips away, unnoticed, and you leave it behind without a look back. I was off to college in 1988, thinking of new world and new horizons, and didn't return to Ever Ready Sports and Hobby Center again.
I didn't even think about it for many, many years, as I met my wife, began a writing career, and bought my first home. It was just part of the landscape of my life.
But today, if I could travel back in time to any place, Ever Ready Sports and Hobby Center would rank high on my list, circa 1976 - 1980.
It would be wonderful to walk the aisles of that small, but packed hobby shop one more time, and recapture the days of excited youth, when a model train or spaceship would fire my imagination for days and days. I would love to show that store -- and the world within -- to my own eight year old son, Joel.
Ever Ready Sports and Hobby Center is long gone in a concrete sense, but it remains ever-green in my memory.