BRH IN THE NEWS
October 19, 2011
Ruby, owner of Blue Ridge Hobbies
says business is going so well that
he is looking for a larger space. /
| Staff writers
Small-business owners, the backbone
of the state and national economies,
say they’re seeing mixed signals in
the local economy, with optimism for
modest gains and improving
conditions tempered by fears of
nature, these entrepreneurs are a
can sell cakes at the economy’s
absolute worst, I know I can sell
them during better times,” said
Andrea Goodjoin, owner of Divine
Desserts by Andrea in Greenville
Goodjoin began her cake-baking
business in the midst of the last
recession, leaving her job to become
a baker in 2008. She not only
survived but expects growth will
continue as the economy improves.
a bakery now. With proceeds from a
Michelin Development Upstate loan,
she intends to move to her own
storefront early next year. Over the
Labor Day weekend, she began
operating a cart in Haywood Mall and
has hired one employee, who works
with her on weekends.
Bruce Yandle, an economist who is
the dean emeritus of Clemson
University’s College of Business and
Behavioral Science, looks at
economic data, he sees nothing that
“suggests there is any perceptible
positive current in the economy.”
data I see suggest we are moving
along a bumpy road,” Yandle said.
Still, he points out that he looks
at past data and business owners
tend to look at the present and the
look at the numbers of people who
come in. They are looking at the
future. I would put a good bit of
credence in what small-business men
and women think,” Yandle said. “They
are risk-takers. But they’re also
the survivors of a tough period, so
that suggests they are cautious
recent survey by the National
Federation of Independent Business
showed a modest gain in
small-business confidence in
September. The NFIB said
small-business optimism gained 0.8
points, ending a six-month
about the only good thing to say
about it is that the index didn’t go
down,” the NFIB said. “The net
percent of owners expecting real
sales to improve became less
negative by 6 points, ‘rising’ to a
negative 6 percent. The net percent
of owners expecting better business
six months ‘rose’ 4 points to a
negative 22 percent, not exactly a
The NFIB said the future for
small-business sales remains weak
and fewer owners are
in their businesses.
Twenty-eight percent of
small-business owners reported that
poor sales are still their top
business problem, the NFIB said. In
fact, poor sales have been the top
business problem for small-business
owners for the past three years, the
Access to credit isn’t a widespread
problem, with only 4 percent
reporting that financing was their
No. 1 business problem, the NFIB
said. Ninety-two percent reported
all their credit needs were met or
that they were not interested in
increase in consumer spending would
be the best imaginable stimulus
right now, not gimmicky Washington
policies,” said NFIB chief economist
Bill Dunkelberg. “The key to
economic recovery is restoring the
confidence of consumers; only then
begin to see the sales they need to
Justin Kopelman, a 2009 Clemson
University graduate who opened a
Pita Pit restaurant on College
Avenue in Clemson two years ago,
said the current economy is forcing
small-business operators to refocus
During the summer, he offered punch
cards, allowing customers to receive
a free pita after they bought nine,
Kopelman said. Customers who filled
their cards were entered into a
drawing to win an iPad, he said.
Ruby, owner of Blue Ridge Hobbies on
North Pleasanburg Drive near the
Cherrydale Point shopping center,
said sales last month were up 7
percent over last year and that’s in
“a discretionary business .”
“Nobody needs model trains to
survive, but our business continues
to increase so we have to move to
bigger digs,” Ruby said. “So, we’re
saying, ‘So what's with the
economy.’ We’re going to keep
preparing to move to a new, expanded
location, partly because his
Internet business has increased,
“Small-business owners are typically
an optimistic lot,” said Frank
Knapp, president and chief executive
CEO of the South Carolina Small
Business Chamber of Commerce. But
they also tend to be conservative by
nature, he said.
“Obviously, there’s still
consternation and concern about what
the economy is going to do,” Knapp
Barbara League, chairman and CEO of
G.F. League Manufacturing Co., said
her Greenville company “has
drastically changed the way we do
business” in recent months. The
changes, however, have been the
result of growth rather than a
contraction during the recession and
a slow recovery, she said.
company has experienced few problems
during the last three or four years
because of the diversity of its
client base, she said. When one
company slows, another in a
different industry is growing,
Employment at the plant, which does
fabrication for various industries,
has grown in the last several years
although it still has fewer than 30
workers, she said.
that growth is a cause for optimism
and some fear, she said. The
family-owned company has bought the
old Wunda We've facility at 2200
Poinsett Highway and is renovating
it with plans to move production
there in several months.
140,000-square-foot facility has
been empty for several years.
League has run out of space at its
25,000-square-foot facility on
Furman Road, where it has been since
1936, League said.
League Manufacturing has diversified
since its beginning in 1917 as a
In the 1930s, it began manufacturing
textile machinery replacement parts.
the first 40 to 50 years, we were
exclusively married to the textile
industry,” League said. But when the
textile industry began faltering in
the 1960s, “we knew we needed to
diversify and fast.”
Model trains may bring tourists
The next big thing in Greenville could be a new small world.
Models like this one
of the old Southern Railway Station at the end of West Washington
will be among those featured in the Miniature World of Trains exhbit.
(Ron Gillen Fine Arts)
This new miniature world would be part of a museum and a
more than 30,000-square- foot operating and
model railway, with detailed scenery, spanning portions of
Frank Ruby, president of the
Miniature World of Trains (MWOT), the non-profit group
developing the railroad for display and operation, said the
aim is to promote the hobby of model train building, educate
people on the technologies that go into the hobby, and
create an attraction that draws people from all over the
world into Greenville.
Ruby, owner of Blue Ridge
Hobbies on North Pleasantburg Drive, said the exhibit would
be similar in magnitude to the Miniatur Wunderland in
Miniatur Wunderland is a railway model that, so far,
features scenes spanning from Scandinavia to the United
States. Along the way are various dioramas featuring people
The exhibit has had more
than four million visitors. Ruby believes the Miniature
World of Trains can do likewise, partly because the closest
to it is the Chicago Museum of Science and Industry.
“It’s not a small thing,”
Ruby said. “What they’re doing (in Germany), we’re going to
do here and a lot better,” Ruby said.
“A lot of people know
about the Baltimore and Ohio railroad museum, the
Pennsylvania railroad museum, and if you go to Chattanooga,
and you know about the Chattanooga Choo Choo and all that
stuff,” Ruby said.
“We want to create the
same thing here. Based on what we’re hearing just from the
little bit of information we’ve been putting out there in
the last the month or so, there’s a lot of interest in
this,” he said.
Jerry Howard, president
and chief executive officer of the Greenville Area
Development Corp., sees the Miniature World of Trains as a
great opportunity to promote local tourism.
‘”If you look at what’s
been done in Munich, it’s a curiosity that attracts the
attention of a lot of people,” he said. ‘”It’s pretty
Another notable aspect of
the project is what it could do for education, Howard said
Mike Jensen, an electrical engineer, retired
U.S. Navy nuclear submarine officer and a
retired independent software developer involved
in the MWOT project, a portable mock-up
locomotive, capable of being delivered to the
classroom, would allow the train to be
controlled over the
from the classroom to the project facility.
Aside from the fun of doing this,
would be shown what railroads do as well as the
underlying technology that allows remote control
of the model and remote viewing results,
according to Jensen.
“Students of all
ages today need to be challenged and stimulated
by the world we live,” Jensen said.
“We should find
ways to channel their video game experiences and
inclinations into real world technologies in
order to prepare them for the highly technical
world that we now live and compete in.”
There can also be
educational gains for those who view the MWOT at
its future location, which has not yet been
“They can model
different rail lines, cities, and all the
various evolutions of the railroad around here
from the old Atlantic coast line, the CSX, and
been so much talk about high speed rail between
Atlanta and Charlotte with Greenville in the
middle, that’s something that can be modeled,”
he said. “There’re a lot of things that are
certainly of historical interest as well as
educational, so I’m real excited about it.”
The project, which will require more than
$1.5 million for the initial phase, would
feature many recognizable locations as it is
developed in stages. The South Carolina, North
could include the Greenville Yard, West End
Greenville, Old Southern Railway station
Greenville and the Port of Charleston.
MWOT is looking
at possible locations off Woodruff Road, Wade
Hampton Boulevard, and Roper Mountain Road to
house the model railroad exhibit.
The building has
to be anywhere between 45,000 and 100,000 square
feet and have at least 150 parking spaces, Ruby
The group is also raising money for the
project’s first phase. Their corporate sponsors
include World’s Greatest Hobby, Walthers,
ExactRail, and others.
"The group has some of the major manufacturers
of railroad modeling already on board as
sponsors donating of equipment and that sort of
thing,” Howard said. “And there’s a big base of
people in this area into model railroading that
are going to help build the scenery, rail lines
and all that.”
some of the model buildings is already underway,
The first phase
will include the Greenville-Spartanburg area up
to New York.
possible locations that could be modeled is the
BMW plant, with a site showing cars coming off
the production line, being loaded onto the auto
train going from Greenville down to Charleston,
and then being unloaded from the auto train onto
a cargo ship, being shipped over to Europe and
vice versa with different cars.
MWOT can also use
the technology now available with model
railroading to put Proterra buses in operation
in Greenville to show how those vehicles would
interact in the area.
The same will be
done with the likes of coal facilities.
“We’re going to
show how the coal gets out of West Virginia onto
the train, going out to the
power plant here in South Carolina, unloaded,
and low and behold there’s electricity,” Ruby
“It all can be done,” he said. ‘“It’s
just that we’re going to combine it all with the
current state of the hobby which is digitized.
We’re going to put it on steroids.”
Want to know more?
or for more information about the Miniature
World of Trains: Visit the Miniature World of
Trains corporate office at 2400 N. Pleasantburg
Drive, Suite F, Greenville, SC, 29609, or call
255-4671 or visit www.miniatureworldoftrains.com.
Frank Ruby is president and chairman of the board
for Miniature World of Trains. Greg Beckner/Staff
Frank Ruby, owner of
the hobby shop on Pleasantburg Drive and Miniature World of Trains’
president and chairman of the board of directors, said, “It’s not just
about model trains around the Christmas tree any longer.”
German twin brothers, Frederik and Gerrit Braun, created a nearly
69,000-square-foot private museum and continue to add to it and to the
world’s largest model railway inside. Greenville’s site is expected to
total 50,000-square-feet. It will include a 30,000-square-foot layout of
the country’s well-known railroad scenes, a railroad history museum,
restaurant and Ruby’s hobby shop.
under way for prospective locations. The most promising to date are in
high traffic areas and near the interstate. One is in the Interstate 85
and Woodruff Road vicinity and the other on Wade Hampton Boulevard.
Ruby said Greenville is an ideal location because it’s in the center of
four major metropolises (Atlanta, Columbia, Asheville and Charlotte) and
within a daytrip’s distance of nine million people and the climate and
nearby attractions offer destination appeal.
“This attraction has a tourism
component as well as an educational component, to allow visitors to
learn about railroads, the historical features, high speed rail and much
more. And there’s a lot of technology involved that may offer some good
jobs for the Greenville area,” said president and CEO of Greenville Area
Development Corporation Jerry Howard.
The initial phase is projected to
open in early 2012. Starting with the East Coast, phase one will feature
Greenville’s downtown, businesses like Allied Steel and GE, North
Carolina’s Saluda Grade and farther reaching highlights like the Florida
Juice Train that in two days carries Tropicana orange juice from Florida
to just outside New York.
With a focus on education as well as
entertainment, the facility will promote green building, advanced
technology and not just trains but all forms of transportation.
The project will be built in
sections on the most popular scale in model railway, the HO-scale,
because merchandise is accessible. The ratio is 1:87 and replicas of
train cars are shorter than a pencil in length and smaller than ones by
For its startup, the museum will
need $500,000 and more than $1.5 million for the initial phase. As the
non-profit winds down its first month of fund raising since acquiring
non-profit status, Ruby said they have accepted personal contributions
as well as $200,000 in product donations from model railroad
manufacturers across the country.
The cash is being spent for
advertisement, to order T-shirts and construct box cars and other
merchandise with the museum’s logo to present in exchange for donations.
Ruby is looking forward to grant
funding and tax deductible contributions from the general public,
corporations, private hobbyists, model railroad clubs and railroad
charities as the word spreads.
For now he said there will be no
loans to prop up the project. Paperwork has been filed with local
companies like Duke Power, Michelin and BMW to ask for sponsorships and
matching funds when employees donate.
Howard said when asked about funding
in a down economy, “Recessions are temporary but museums last.”
The facility will support 100 to 150
employees and donate back to the community, said Ruby, based on what is
happening in Germany and at one of the world’s largest science museums,
Chicago’s Museum of Science and Industry.
Ruby said, “The project will have
worldwide appeal. Germany’s railroad museum attracted a million visitors
last year and Chicago’s museum also seems to be thriving.”
“I don’t have a crystal ball but
this has potential to be a major, major tourist attraction. A tourist
destination that may draw a whole lot of people to the area,” Howard
Ruby started Blue Ridge Hobbies in
2005 as an online business, opened a retail store in 2007 and relocated
last year to a building twice its size.
He said, “It all started when my
wife made the mistake of giving me a train set on our first Christmas
together. They kept getting bigger and bigger as our houses got bigger.
Then Blue Ridge Hobbies and now this.”
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Blue Ridge Hobbies Grand Opening
Frank Ruby couldn’t find the model
railroading products he wanted, he
decided to make the search easier on
himself and others by opening a
This week, he’s celebrating another
expansion of that business, Blue
store has moved from a 1,200 square
foot space at 2327 North
Pleasantburg Drive to a 2,400
square-foot space across the street
at 2400-F North Pleasantburg Drive,
beside The Home Depot.
The new location allows Ruby to
display, add new merchandise, and
double the amount of products.
Ruby works on a model train display
at Blue Ridge Hobbies' new location.
(GEORGE GARDNER / Staff)
store’s new additions include the
“Wall of Track,” the introduction of
more than 60 new brands of supplies,
and the offering of how to classes
on most aspects of model
railroading, Ruby said.
store will also add radio controlled
planes, cars, and boats.
Ridge Hobbies will continue to offer
model railroading items for
beginners up to craftsman. The items
available include everything from
track and scenery to trains and
detail craftsman modeling kits.
store also responds to the new
demand of model railroading with the
introduction of DCC (Digital Command
Control) operation for Model Trains
several years ago.
kind of like the convenience store
of model trains” or hobbies, he
said. “If you need it, you can come
down to the store and it will
usually be on the shelf. It’s rare
that it’s not.”
started the business online at his
home in 2005. He opened his first
retail site across
the street from the store’s new
location in 2007.
business has grown in products and
sales in spite of the recession.
said sales are up 38 percent in
year-to-year comparisons, from
September 2008 and 2009. The sales
total last year compared to this
will be up 29 percent, he said.
we first opened we were nickels and
dimes – literally,” he said. “We
some months in the first year to
make $9,000 in sales. We do that in
a day, day in a half, now.”
Duncan, a long-time customer of Blue
Ridge Hobbies, believes model
somewhat recession proof because
it’s a relatively modest hobby as
go - you get a lot of bang and
pleasure for the buck” and “it is a
great at home
hobby that doesn’t require a lot of
traveling overhead to get there.”
Duncan attributes Blue Ridge
Hobbies’ success, in part, to
discounted products” and Ruby’s
knowledge as a model railroader and
Ridge Hobbies’ grand-opening
celebration is Oct. 1- 3.
Customers can register for drawings
for free items contributed by major
wholesalers during the celebration.
Business writer Angelia Davis can be
reached at 864-298-4276.
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