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Santa Barbara's Hobby Central closes

By Nick Bullock
Published: January 22, 2013
Since opening 67 years ago, Hobby Central, located in Santa Barbara, Calif., has died three times. After the first two times, Vern Morseman successfully resurrected the iconic hobby store and then later resold it.

He couldn’t do it again. 

Not because he didn’t have the capability. “I know that if I decided to open it I could make it successful again,” Morseman said.

Rather, Hobby Central closed for good this time because he didn’t have the time and energy. “I wasn’t looking for a buyer this time,” he said. “All of this happened within the last 45 days, where I just said enough.

“After having a long conversation with my parents — and I got pretty sick from the stress back in the third quarter — they just said, ‘Do you really want to do this again?’ And I go, ‘No. I have the ability to save it again. I don’t have the desire to save it again.’ ”

Morseman, 53, also owns Ventura Hobbies in Ventura, Calif., as well as a manufacturing company called MTE Industries. The travel has also weighed on him, as he said Hobby Central and Ventura Hobbies are 37 miles apart.

He is also a private pilot and a colonel in the Commemorative Air Force, which takes up a significant amount of his time.

Santa Barbara, where the store has been located for its entire existence, has also changed, and not for the better, Morseman said. “Santa Barbara is not that friendly of an environment anymore,” he said. “I’m an American Indian, and my family has been here for 13,000 years, and it’s just not the town that my family was part of creating.”

Hobby Central, which was originally known as Atkins Hobbies, held a sale to try and get rid of its merchandise before it closed on Jan. 19. The remaining stock, which Morseman said was fortunately not a lot, was moved to his Ventura store.

Morseman started at Hobby Central as an employee, working for Tom and Vern Atkins, the original owners. After climbing the ladder up to a management position, he eventually left the business altogether. He said he found out later that he was considered the “heir apparent” and so he returned in order to eventually fulfill that role. Later he left Hobby Central to open Ventura Hobbies, but whenever the Santa Barbara store fell into hot water, Morseman returned to save it.

“I feel fortunate that I get to close the family business, and no one else does,” he said. “It’s kind of completion for me.”