Finding The Silver Lining

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We are all seeking “silver linings” during this COVID-19 time – extra family time; longer workouts; tackling home improvement projects; learning how to Zoom.

For Smoke Stack Hobby Shop, that silver lining is an increase in people enjoying more time with their hobbies. “Our shop has a lot of regulars,” said Patti Riordan, co-owner of the business along with her husband Don.

. “And this pandemic we are going through is actually giving these regulars an opportunity to spend a lot of quality time on the hobbies they love!”

When Coronavirus Hit, We Suffered like Every Small Business

At the onset of the pandemic, Patti was of-course worried. Keeping four full-time employees paid and happy was of her utmost concern. “We were lucky to have been able to pay our staff full salaries during those first few weeks of the shutdown,” Patti explained. But to keep the business going once the pandemic stretched from weeks to months was a different story.

“We typically draw people into our store with unique experiences – model car displays, elaborate model train installments, remote control car races,” Patti said. But with new safety restrictions, these experiences could no longer exist. “We knew we had to pivot!”

And Pivot, They Did

As the pandemic rolled on, the store continued to see an increased interest in spending more time on hobbies. “So, we upped our online presence. We put up a more robust online shop where people can buy their supplies. We took the hit and offered free shipping. And we started to promote curbside pick-up, which wasn’t a heavy lift, but it helped us maintain our ‘no mask, no service’ rule for entering our store.”

The business made a promise to its employees as well – if the shop could reach its online sales goals for the month, there would be no change in employment status. “The team has really stepped up to shine during this stressful period.”

But It Hasn’t Been Easy.

Patti is the first to admit that the transitions have put pressure on the business. There are still the occasional store guests that insist on shopping without a mask. “We have to ask them to leave, even if they’ve been a loyal customer for years.”

The supply chain – and the ability to get inventory – has also been a challenge. A small business like Smoke Stack Hobby Shop has to rely heavily on suppliers offering credit for inventory purchases. “For example,” Patti explained. “We usually order a lot of our holiday inventory year in early fall on extended payment terms. The suppliers let us take delivery now, and then pay for the merchandise three or four months later. Suppliers simply won’t do that anymore.”

But the Business Continues to Move

“We’ve been very fortunate. There aren’t a lot of hobby shops in the area, so we are often the only choice,” said Patti. But she was quick to point to her business association memberships as critical to helping her get through all this.

“A small business like ours…we don’t have the resources. We don’t have human resource personnel. We don’t have marketing or finance staff. So when the pandemic hit, we were at a loss.” Patti credits the Ohio Council of Retail Merchants, National Retail Federation, and Destination Downtown Lancaster as important partners in helping the business navigate the current environment. It was these organizations that helped Smoke Stack organize around Ohio’s new Coronavirus mandates, from how to sanitize the store to how to help shoppers maintain safety while in the store.

She also credits the incredible Lancaster community for its continued support of her business. “While we are all experiencing tremendous pressure from COVID-19, I am just so grateful for the Lancaster community for continuing to shop our store – and all Lancaster stores.”


The Smoke Stack Hobby Shop in Lancaster, Ohio has over 40 years in the business of providing hobbyists with the right tools for their particular hobby. It is family-owned and operated and has been since the beginning in 1977. Smoke Stack Hobby Shop is the largest store in Lancaster and the surrounding area dedicated solely to hobbyists. The storefront boasts a large variety of new releases, plus hard-to-find out of production items.