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Model kits pick up steam as families look for at-home fun, hobby shop owners say

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We’re all spending more time at home these days, and while you may have tried and dropped several new hobbies as of late, there still may be one left you haven’t tapped into in quite some time. A soon-to-be-completed model of a sports car, military tank, or even a robot, awaits you at Long Island’s hobby shops.

“Since the pandemic, the number of people who have gotten back into models is just unbelievable,” says Steve Ford, the original owner of Willis Hobby Shop, which first opened on Long Island in 1949. “Adults come in saying they haven’t done this in 30 years but want to get back into it. It’s been a real boom.”

Recent sales at Willis Hobby, located in Mineola, and Bay Shore Hobby Shop cite that model building — involving kits with 20 to 500-plus pieces that when put together make a 3D creation — is making a comeback in the area.

Bay Shore Hobby Shop co-owner Gabrielle Goldberg says customers have been coming in requesting help finding an activity to get them off their tablets and phones. “Grandpas come in with their children and say to them, ‘When I was a little kid, I used to come here. Now, I’m bringing you.’ †

Most model kits fall into the $20 to $45 range. More advanced models can cost as much as $400 and include motors and animatronic parts. Some more advanced models can take several days or weeks to complete.

Some kids are building models to relieve stress. Johnny Zambrano, 11, of Brentwood, just put together a robot. “It was fun because I like how relaxing it is. I like to do it by myself,” he says.

Shane Brocking, 11, of Sound Beach creates models because it’s rewarding. He explains, “When you’re building a model, you might mess up and be annoyed. But when you’re done and look at what you’ve built, you can see it looks great. And you did it yourself.”

Models have marched on. Favorites from the past have joined new, best-selling animé warriors and sci-fi creatures. So, whether you’re a model-building-newbie, very advanced, or somewhere in-between, here’s the latest mad mixture of DIY models out there, and where to find them.


Five thousand DIY build-a-model kits fill the shelves from floor to ceiling in this shop. Goldberg explains the method behind the madness: “Digging and searching for a treasure in the store is something regular model builders love to do.”

If you’re looking for helicopters, planes, tanks, animé creatures, high-tech battle warriors, spaceships, rockets that can be assembled with engines, monsters ranging King Kong to Frankenstein, Star Wars and Star Trek models, this is your place.

It goes on. There are traditional, plastic and wooden build-a-model sports cars, slot cars and funny cars. There are trains to build. Once they’re ready to roll, pick up paint and decals to decorate them. Goldberg says, “Some people like to personalize their trains and make dioramas that look like the town where they grew up.” For that, the store has a plethora of bridges, mountains, tunnels, old-style stores, and more, to create landscapes and villages.

For beginners, there are models that snap together. For those who are advanced, there are models to glue together. A line of Legos range from trucks that sync up with apps and move, to Disney princesses. “We have something for everyone,” Goldberg says. Even for those who don’t love model building, there are paint by numbers kits and jigsaw puzzles with as many as 5,000 pieces.

INFO: 2054 Sunrise Highway South Service Rd., Bay Shore; 631-968-8547


There are build-your-own model planes, cars, motorcycles, military vehicles, sci-fi creatures, trains, Legos and much more in this store. Ford explains, “Some shelves are stocked with models for kids or beginners, others are filled with more advanced models for teens and adults. Someone on staff can always help find a model to match your skill level. For example, we have two Godzilla models . One that snaps together for 8- or 9-year-olds, and another you can glue together for those who are more advanced.”

Need help finding a specific kit? Ford explains, “We have quite a staff here. Everyone is into hobbies and has experience with different models. One salesperson specializes in RC (remote control) cars, another knows a lot about military models, a third is a model train expert, and so on. Some guys come into the store and want to build the first car they ever drove, or a military plane they flew.”

INFO: 300 Willis Ave., Mineola; 516-746-9344;


Owner Christopher Hirschberg says, “For the past few years, Gundam (Japanese animé characters) have been the best-selling models in the store. Most of the time when we get a shipment in, they’ll sell out with an hour. Model cars are a close second.”

The shop also has build-a-model ships, planes military models, sci-fi creatures and dinosaurs. Pick up a build-your-own brain skull or human lung kit (assemble the body parts and paint them), or build a metal butterfly with pliers. “We don’t specialize in one area,” says Hirschberg. “We spread it around to please everyone who comes through the door.”

INFO: 13 W Merrick Rd., Freeport, 516-378-9594;


This creative toy shop has unique build-a-model kits. For kids age 7 and up, build a tumbling hedgehog. Clap your hands and it rolls over. Kids can also build a robotic, motorized hand and arm that can pick things up. Put together a Q-Ba-Maze and run a marble through a tunnel of colored cups. One version lights up in the dark.

There are lots and lots of Legos, including Batman — just in time for the upcoming movie. Harry Potter Legos have also become very popular with the younger generation.

Store manager/buyer Debbie Imperator sees a definite connection between soaring model kit sales and the pandemic. She’s noticed it, “has brought more family time. So many parents are working from home, so they have a little more time to spend with their children. The world has changed.”

INFO: 360 Wheatley Plaza, Greenvale; 516-484-0966;


Surrounded by nearly 400 build-your-own-model kits in his shop, longtime owner Jim Katonah marvels at the popularity of Games Workshop war and fantasy characters. Assemble and paint them. After that, Katonah says, “Kids are into gaming with the models and doing battles with their friends. Many models are plastic, so builders can create large, artistic pieces that just blow your mind.”

Since Katonah opened his shop 43 years ago, the build-a-models have evolved with the decades. “There’s a lot of regurgitation of old stuff that people are bringing back and enjoying,” he says. “In the end, it doesn’t matter what your model looks like. It’s what feels good to you and what you’re contented with. Looking for a model? I’ll guide you through the store and see what touches your heart. “

INFO: 134 Middle Country Rd., Middle Island; 631-924-0583

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