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California Hobby Distributors celebrates 100 years

By Hal Miller
Published: March 3, 2010
One of the oldest businesses in the hobby industry is celebrating a birthday in 2010. California Hobby Distributors, of Alhambra, Calif., turns 100, and throughout its history it’s been family owned and operated. Running the business today is Marta Veir Renna. Her grandfather, Martin “Pete” Veir, and great uncle, Henry, started the operation in 1910, selling toys and setting up elaborate displays in California department stores — “Like the store in the movie, A Christmas Story,” Marta said.

In the early years of the business, Pete and Henry developed personal relationships with people like Beatrice Alexander, creator of Madame Alexander dolls, and the principals at toy train manufacturer Lionel and stuffed-bear maker Steiff.

In the 1930s, prompted by their kids’ interest in them, the brothers added hobby products. They saw a great future in them, Renna said. “Companies like Athearn, Revell, Monogram — we’ve been customers since day one.” And even though the Depression was going on at the time, to look at their store displays, “You wouldn’t have known it,” she said.

After World War II, Renna’s uncle, Robert Veir, and her father, Frank, took over the running of the wholesale division. “My grandmother worked here until she was 88 and my uncle Hilton was here in sales until about 1971.” Renna started in the business in 1970 while going to college.

While dealers can contact the company and order via its Web site, she says the best store owners still call.” They appreciate our high fill rate and speed getting out orders,” she said. “Plus, we don’t do business with the Internet sellers and the ‘basement bombers.’ We’re here for the brick-and-mortar stores only."