JACKSON – Surrounded by family, friends and loyal customers, Frank Gustafson spent his last day as owner and operator of the Jackson Hobby Shop selling items, packing boxes and remembering the many good times he had running the popular store.
The flashing open sign was blinking as always right up to 5 pm on Jan. 19 its last day of operation. Over the years the shop drew township and area residents to meet a variety of hobby needs.
Whether you wanted models, a train set or a radio-controlled rocket you could find it at the Jackson Hobby Shop. While the store has had three locations during its history it closed its doors in the Bennetts Mills Plaza on 2275 West County Line Road.
Gustafson has suffered a series of health problems and while operating the store has been his passion, he said he just couldn’t keep up the pace of running it and was unable to sell it.
“My parents opened it in 1969 and it’s hard to believe today is the last day,” Gustafson said. His health issues included a quadruple bypass, nearly losing a leg and a minor stroke in July. He decided to slow down and spend more time with his family and friends, especially his new grandson 6-month-old Grayson Weiss, who came for a visit during the day.
Gustafson remembered the day he took over the family business. “My father and I got together and we stopped by the lawyer’s office. I asked him what are we doing here and he told me that if I wanted the business it was mine and that he needed to retire. I had 10 minutes to decide.”
“If he didn’t take over the business it would go away,” Gustafson’s mother Sylvia Gustafson said.
“That was in 1986. My father died a year later,” Frank Gustafson said. “I was thinking of going into the Navy but I decided to do this as I did not want this to disappear.”
Closing day resembled a family reunion with his siblings and other family members coming in from north Jersey, Pennsylvania, Arizona and Florida. His mother – who long time customers called “Mom” – was present to oversee the packing of items that had not been sold.
Fortunately for Gustafson and his wife, the move of unsold inventory wasn’t far away. “We live five minutes away here in Jackson,” he said.
His sisters Jeanette Tepel of Florida and Ann Marie Porrino of Arizona remembered working for the family store while growing up when their parents operated the store.
“We all worked at one time in the store,” Tepel said.
Porrino said “we’d have to take a break for dinner when we could.”
One habit that Gustafson may have missed on his last day of work was his 3 p.m. beer. “Some days I needed it,” he said laughing.
“Sometimes it was more than one depending on who came in,” his mother added.
All joking aside the shop’s customer base was like family to the Gustafsons’ and many customers felt the same way about them.
Joe Delillo of Toms River had shopped at the store and developed a friendship with the Gustafson family over three decades.
“I came here a lot and this was where friends came together. It became a family thing and we’d come in and say hi to “mom,” Delillo said.
“You’d come in and talk and have some coffee and I got to know a lot of people. A lot of creativity came out of it for projects. Those that never had the experience of coming here really missed out on a great experience,” Delillo added.
“I used to drive on my lunch break when I worked in Lakewood and my buddy Mark and I would help Frank on occasion. People used to ask us if we worked here and we thought we might as well have, as we spent so much time here. We will still keep in touch. We love them,” Delillo added.
“We carried everything from plastic models, to trains, to rockets and indoor-outdoor trains, gas and electric cars and nitro airplanes,” Gustafson said.
“We had a few craft items but more recently we even added drones,” Tepel said.
Gustafson said he was donating several brand-new display cases to the township police department for their needs.
“The original plan was to help whomever bought the place,” Gustafson said. He had put the store up for sale at $100,000 and even agreed to stay on for a bit to help the new owner with the transition but no sale came about.
“A business doesn’t last because of the product but because of the service,” Gustafson said.