BUYER'S GUIDE: Finding Local Hobby Shops

In the United States: The following types of stores are likely to carry miniatures or supplies.

The Local Game Shop
A small shop in your town, probably not part of a big chain, run by a handful of people who probably enjoy fantasy role-playing games. They almost certainly stock fantasy and science fiction figures in 25mm, and they probably carry all of the Games Workshop stuff as well. If they don't have historical miniatures, they would be glad to order them for you.
The Local Plastic Model Shop
Some model shops double as game shops; others don't. But even the "straight" model shops might carry 1/2400 scale naval miniatures or 1/285 scale armor miniatures. And this is the preferred place for those who use plastic models on the tabletop, whether gaming in 1/72 scale (as many armor miniaturists do) or scratch-building science fiction vehicles out of WWII halftracks.
The Local Comics Shop
Some comics shops sell games and miniatures, some don't. Some that don't sell miniatures normally might still be able to special order them for you (it depends on which distributor they deal with -- some comics distributors also carry games).
The Local Book Store
Some of the big chainstores (such as B. Dalton and Waldenbooks) have game sections (usually for role-playing products). There is also the occasional bookstore which caters to the science fiction and fantasy audience -- these stores probably also carry fantasy and science fiction games and models. However, if they can obtain the fantasy stuff, they can probably also obtain any miniatures product through special order.
The Local Model Railroad Shop
The great thing about model railroad shops -- and, for that matter, the railroad section of any hobby or game shop, if they have one -- is that they carry everything you need to make great terrain (sand, rocks, and grass material, for instance). They might also have games or plastic models -- look around!
The MegaChain Game Store
The only major chain of game stores known to this writer is the HobbyTown U.S.A. chain. Individual stores may differ -- the store I've seen carries miniatures, models, baseball cards, collectible coins, and radio-controlled airplane kits. They may not have a large supply of miniatures products, but they can certainly special-order it for you through their distributor.
The MegaChain Hobby Store
There are a number of "mainstream" hobby stores which cater mostly to handicrafts (needlecraft, painting, home decorating, and so forth). Chain names include Michael's, Hobby Lobby, Garden Ridge Pottery, and so forth. Some of these stores carry railroad and plastic model supplies (useful to the miniatures gamer); you aren't likely to find gaming miniatures there, though.
The Used Book Store
These are stores which sell used books at (roughly) half their retail price. Many of these stores also carry used games. Check the condition and completeness of the product before you buy. Availability varies; if you are really into bargains, you'll have to visit the shop weekly to make sure you don't miss the rare opportunity.
The Thrift Store
Well, it's a long shot, but you do sometimes happen upon bargains. What is available tends to be old -- which might mean it's collectible! -- and often underpriced. (I picked up a boxed set of fantasy miniatures for $1.50 once this way.) Old toys can also be recycled as forts or mountains, especially for fantasy or science fiction periods.
How to find the stores? The Yellow Pages is always a good first place to try (in my locality, hobby shops are listed under "Hobby & Model Construction Supplies -- Retail"). Stores often advertise in special sections near the back of hobby magazines (for instance, though FineScale Modeler is a plastic model magazine, you can tell from the listings which model stores are likely to carry miniatures products).

If you live away from a major urban center, you may have to do your shopping when visiting a larger community. Or you might try buying by mail.

About Placing Special Orders: Most game shops will claim to be more than glad to place an order for you -- in reality, some are more helpful than others. A shop buys its products from one or more distributors; the same distributor might sell miniatures, boardgames, role-playing games, and half a dozen other hobby products.

What this means is that even if a store doesn't stock the item you want -- even if it doesn't stock the TYPE of item you want -- they might be able to get it if their distributor carries it. For instance, I will guarantee you that any store which carries fantasy role-playing products can also obtain most miniatures products through their distributor.

When placing a special order, be prepared to provide the name of the manufacturer and the manufacturer's product number for the item you want. The shop will charge you when the order arrives -- a good store will take your phone number, and call you when the order comes in. (Some stores say they'll call you, but won't -- so plan to visit every week or so, and ask the clerk about your order.) A bad store might sit on your order for weeks without putting it in; or, if their favorite distributor can't get the item, might cancel the order without telling you. So check often. A great hobby store will do wonders for you!

If you are placing a large order (for instance, $50 or more), ask for a discount. Some stores always give discounts on special orders (figuring they have a guaranteed profit on the products). You can usually get larger discounts for larger orders -- it might help if several of your friends order at the same time.

Lastly, some stores might give you a discount if you promise to paint the figures in their store (if you are good at painting...), or promise to play a few games there on a weekend (good publicity for the store). It never hurts to ask.

Last Updates
23 May 1996reformatted
Comments or corrections?