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Local hobby stores hold on to pandemic gains

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Other Realms Ltd.
Customers gather to check-out at Other Realms, a comic book and hobby store located on Nimitz Highway. Other Realms is just one hobby store that saw a rise in customers during and after the pandemic.

During the COVID-era lockdowns and the start of routine work-from-home, people rediscovered hobbies.

This week, Pacific Business News spoke with four hobby stores on Oʻahu that have seen the resurgence continue through this year.

One shop is Other Realms, which celebrated 35 years of business in December. Sales are up 15% now from before the pandemic, said Loretta Whitesell, who owns the store with her husband, Charles.

The shop in Kapālama sells board games, comic books, miniatures, and even hosts groups to play games such as Dungeons & Dragons.

Whitesell said the pandemic “reintroduced people to hobbies that they can either do on their own or in very small groups.” To stay in business during the lockdowns, Other Realms would mail products to their customers but now most sales are back to in-person.

The business started with the owners as the only employees, and it now employs 13 part and full-time staff.

For Easy Music Center, the pandemic inspired President Peter Dods to improve both online sales and that old-school business basic — telephone customer service.

Dods said he answers the phone himself often these days and feels he knows his customers better than at any other time since he acquired the store 17 years ago.

Sales are up 21% from 2019 to 2022, he said, despite closing a Pearl City location in 2019. The 9,000-square-foot Ala Moana shop sells acoustic and electric guitars, studio recording equipment and ukulele.

Not only has local business increased, but so have Mainland customers — thanks to online upgrades. About 5% to 10% of the stores' sales are directly from Mainland customers.

A. Kam Napier is the editor-in-chief of Pacific Business News.
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