Pulling nearly 50 years of Carr's Hobbies in for a landing is Jack Carr's full-time job at the moment. Turns out, it's not too different from keeping the shop at altitude all these years.
"I've always enjoyed the customers," the 79-year-old Carr said. "If you're a businessman and you don't like your customers, you don't belong in business."
On Monday, Carr sold a rare wooden biplane which had been hanging over the entryway into his shop. There was a story behind it, having been built by a brain surgeon, and it was bigger than the young man from Moose Lake who bought it.
Yet, when Garrett Dahlen carried it out, the remote control flying enthusiast took a new dream along with him.
"It's never flown before," Dahlen, 21, said. "I'll be the first person to fly it someday."
Such was the delight of visiting Carr's. Even minus nearly 500 lots of antiques and artifacts already pulled from the venerable hobby shop in Lincoln Park, to be sold at auction later this week, Carr's Hobbies was still bursting with its usual inventory of model kits, trains, rockets, paints, propellers and more.
"It will all go," Carr said. "I'll keep marking it down. People like sales."
An impressive assortment of red, green and blue lanterns hung overhead as Carr busily answered phones and tended to traffic in the store, still open daily until 4 p.m. except on Sundays.
"Every one of those was a functional train lantern, taken from a switch somewhere," Carr said. "I spent a lot of time polishing those lanterns — and all my antiques. Night after night, day after day. I never took any junk."
The auction for Carr's most prized antiques is 9 a.m., Saturday at Nordic Auction, 2713 Courtland St., in Duluth. The lots are open each afternoon for preview Wednesday-Friday and also online.
Carr's wife, Dianne, was in France, and he didn't say if he would join her or not when the shop closes for good later this fall. He's got two places in the Northland he can retreat to, he said.
"It's good for her," he said. "She travels the world."
Carr pulled the brakes on a busy business traveling career for himself decades ago, when he left the briefcase behind and came home to help tend to his dad's store, Our Own Hardware. Carr's dad, Martin, had always sold model trains and other hobby supplies. After taking over full time in the 1970s, Jack Carr moved the family business across the street to 2009 W. Superior St., and stripped it of its hardware.
"I could see the writing on the wall from big-box stores," he said.
Instead, he built a life-size ticket booth into his store, erected train sets and started filling the glass display cases which gave his shop a museum quality.
"That was my marketing gimmick to get people into the store," Carr said. "I made it into an attraction."
Plane, train, ore-boat and automobile enthusiasts came from all over to enjoy his store. Kite-lovers and painters, too. Some came four times a year, some twice. They came in multitudes from Minneapolis and as far away as California. The faces became familiar with time and repetition.
"I bet you 70% of my business was from people out of town," Carr said.
He sold to dedicated hobbyists and parents bringing in scouts making derby cars.
"We sold a ton of that over the years," Carr said, strolling past the balsa wood display.
The building that houses Carr's Hobbies has already found its next resident. Carr is in the process of selling to Beth Petrowske, who will bring in Boat House Treats & Treasures next year. The building opened in 1942 and, with land, was stably valued in recent years at $130,900 until jumping to $157,100 in 2019, in a reflection of the burgeoning neighborhood.
Petrowske is retiring from public relations at the Minnesota Department of Transportation, and has been selling gifts and antiques in her free time for 30-plus years.
"It's going to be vintage stuff, lots of art, a lot of handmade items, wool clothing and blankets," she said. "And a lot of old arcade games, too."
Petrowske got to know Carr while she was working on the Twin Ports Interchange reconstruction project, the $343 million highway project through Lincoln Park beginning in 2020. Carr has seen the Lincoln Park neighborhood advance through its many phases.
"I was here in its heyday as the West End, and then it was just me and a couple of furniture stores for a long time," he said. "Now it's coming up again. It's like I've seen it come full circle. It really is a good time to step away."
Carr is pleased to know the legacy of his storefront will continue. After talking to Petrowske about selling hobby supplies, he quickly understood, "She's got to do what she knows best," he said.
Stopping at one display, Carr pointed out the model encased behind the glass. It was a replica of the Edmund Fitzgerald. All wooden, it looked like it had been made from curved and shaped metals. It was a gifted model maker's deceit, aided by glossy paint. Carr set out to make three model kits one year and finished with two, including his classic Fitzgerald.
"I wanted something for the people who liked to watch the ore boats," he said with a twinkle in his eye. "Those two kits flew off the shelves."