Amid the fast-paced chaos of stores in the Big Apple, there is one quaint shop in Astoria that reminds New Yorkers to take it slow. After entering the wooden door that leads into Rudy’s Hobby and Art — located on 30th Avenue, the busy street where the shop has stood since 1942 — customers are immediately welcomed by the calming sound of mellow tunes coming from the radio, the creaky wooden floorboards and hundreds of faded, dusty boxes that hold vintage buildable planes, trains and cars.
On the right side of the store, sitting on a wooden stool, the store’s long-time owner Marvin Cochran, 85, is ready to greet customers with a smile. Contrary to popular belief, his name is not Rudy — although Cochran has been working at the shop for so long he’s stopped correcting people when they call him by the wrong name. Cochran was born in City Island and then in his teens, he moved to Long Island. By 1958, he had met a woman named Teresa, they got married and settled down in Long Island City, on the same block where Rudy’s Hobby and Art is located.
“We moved right here. My wife spent her whole life on this block,” says Cochran.
At the time, Teresa’s parents had owned Rudy’s Confectionary, an ice cream parlor, since 1942. When they got married, Cochran and his wife kept it running until the 1990s.
“After 25 years, my in-laws wanted to retire. My wife took it over, and I worked with her, and we ran it up until the 90s,” Cochran says. “At which point we needed all new equipment and we just weren’t happy with the people we were dealing with. She decided to do something else.”
Cochran, who had been an avid train collector for many years and who sometimes sold his trains at the ice cream parlor decided that the natural course of the store was to turn it into a hobby shop.
“I started with trains and then people would ask ‘Well do you have paint for the trains?’ ‘Do you have other models?’ and from there it just grew.” he says.
Cochran has been in charge of the hobby shop since and if it weren’t for the modern models of NYC buses and trains for sale when you walk in the store, you’d think you’ve been transported back to the 90s. Throughout the decades, Cochran has seen the popularity of the store go through its phases — its peak throughout the 2000s, it dwindled as electronic gaming became more popular and now it’s become a hub for those who want to collect a little bit of nostalgia.
“I’m into the low end, the simple stuff. I don’t understand electronics. If I [begin selling] electronics, you’d have to know how to repair them or what customers are talking about,” Cochran says. “I’m lucky to be into a cell phone — honestly I can get myself locked out of a cell phone.”
Rudy’s Hobby & Art is the perfect place to find the “simple stuff.” Customers can purchase materials and sets to build their own train. Cochran’s favorite model is the American Flyer train. The shop also stocks old models of build-your-own toy cars, such as a 1932 Ford Phantom Vickie or a 1965 Dodge Coronet. Movie fanatics can find famous replicas such as Dom’s 1970 Dodge Charger from the Fast and Furious movies or Star-Lord’s 1967 Shelby from the Marvel franchise. The shop also has numerous puzzles, some range from 500 pieces to 1,000. If potential buyers are looking to make a diorama, Cochran has it covered. There’s also an abundance of miniature trees, shrubs and even people to trick out the dioramas. Artists will find a huge selection of paints, glue and decorations to choose from.
“[It’s important to have a store like this because] it teaches you to follow instructions. It gives you dexterity. It teaches you how to have the patience to work with small parts. Sometimes it can be very frustrating if you can’t do that, but if you can conquer that, you are developing something,” he says. “It’s more than pushing buttons on an iPod.”
Even though the shop is a treasure trove of memories and pieces from people’s childhoods, it is not hugely successful. Inflation has raised the price of many items, big retailers such as Amazon have put a harsh dent in the business and many people aren’t really into these kinds of hobbies anymore.
“As long as I’m here and running it’ll be open, but nobody’s going to take it over. It’s not a good investment. We are fortunate enough to own the building so the store rent is low, but to pay the commercial rent is just not profitable,” says Cochran.
Rudy’s Hobby and Art has become Cochran’s own hobby, he’s the store’s only employee and calls it his “mental health.” It’s what keeps him out of the house, moving and meeting new people. During the peak of the pandemic, when he was cooped up at home with nowhere to go, he suffered a stroke. He’s convinced it was because he wasn’t going to the store and being active.
“[The shop] has been good to us. We raised a family on it and now it’s my mental health. I pay my bills, I’m not making a lot of money, it’s not a big profit,” Cochran says. “I’m limited in what I want to do. I’m old, I like it. I get out, see people four days a week, it gives me a little physical activity — stocking the shelves, and cleaning. It keeps me active and I feel like I am healthier for it mentally and physically.”
Cochran says as long as he is alive, Rudy’s Hobby & Art will be open and he is happy his store brings many memories to customers who pay it a visit and he hopes people will remember the store as one filled with memories.
“There are a lot of memories here,” he says. “It’s old school, it’s not a modern shop. It’s really like going back into the history of when neighborhood stores were mom and pop stores.”
If you are looking to do a little time traveling, visit Rudy’s Hobby & Art located at 516 30th Ave. in Astoria. Open Wednesday to Saturday from 11:30 a.m. to 6 p.m.