HobbyTown location has toys, plus space to play

Daniel Schmidt has turned his HobbyTown USA shop in southeast Lincoln from a strip mall storefront into a gathering place for model car racers, LEGO builders and parents and kids looking for fun.

Schmidt’s 7,300-square-foot store is one of the busiest hobby and card gaming centers among the more than 150 HobbyTown franchises nationwide, according to the company’s founder.

Every day or night of the week, Schmidt hosts events in the 1,200-square-foot gaming space at the back of the store.

Thursday nights, parents and kids race radio-controlled cars. On weekends, fantasy card players compete for prizes.

“We are trying to sell fun, and have fun,” said Schmidt, 31, who owns the Pioneer Woods Drive store with his wife, Chelsy Schmidt.

The store also has a sprawling collection of Melissa Doug toys and Thomas Friends trains, as well as puzzles, stuffed animals, science kits and model airplanes.

Daniel Schmidt handpicks toys with an eye on educational value.

One of the keys to staying competitive with big box stores and online retailers is offering hobbyists a place to shop and gather, he said.

“The big thing for business is to get people talking about your store and excited to come in. When you have a bunch of like-minded people in a room, even if they don’t know each other, it builds relationships and it fosters a community.”

The store hosts showcase events for LEGO enthusiasts and model car and train builders. A Thomas Friends event in October drew 400 parents and kids in one day.

On a recent Sunday, dozens of card players — mostly men in their 20s — competed for prizes during a pre-release event for a new set of Magic: The Gathering cards.

Jeff Schmidt, a 34-year-old software developer, said the space is unlike any other in Lincoln.

“It’s become a place to see friends and share an interest,” said Jeff Schmidt, who is not related to the owner and plays Magic: The Gathering at the store about once a week.

Chris Krueger, another Magic player from Lincoln, said the store sells cards he can’t buy elsewhere in town.

“If I need a Magic card and I need it today, I can pick it up,” said Krueger, 33.

Daniel Schmidt got his start at HobbyTown after high school making minimum wage as a sales clerk. He later worked in the company’s Lincoln headquarters before buying the HobbyTown franchise in 2006, which at the time was at SouthPointe Pavilions in south Lincoln.

He moved the store to Pioneer Woods Drive in April.

Like a lot of the gamers playing cards at his store, Schmidt was drawn into HobbyTown because he played Magic: The Gathering.

“I enjoyed the atmosphere and the products they sold,” he said.

HobbyTown was founded in Lincoln more 25 years ago as a hobby shop and now has about 155 stores nationwide, including two in Lincoln.

“Dan’s success really comes from following the franchise model but also going beyond the basics,” said co-founder Thom Walla of Lincoln.

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