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Americans are spending less on hobbies. How’s that affecting stores that rely on them?

Stephanie Hughes May 18, 2023
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Lindsay Farrell, who works at Canton Games in Baltimore, holds out a 100-sided die. It costs $44.99. Stephanie Hughes / Marketplace

Americans are spending less on hobbies. How’s that affecting stores that rely on them?

Stephanie Hughes May 18, 2023
Heard on:
Lindsay Farrell, who works at Canton Games in Baltimore, holds out a 100-sided die. It costs $44.99. Stephanie Hughes / Marketplace
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Today I learned that dice can have more than six sides. At Canton Games, a shop in Baltimore, they have all kinds, made from all different materials. 

“Over here somewhere, we’ve got a 30-sided die,” said Lindsay Farrell, who works at the store. They also have a few hundred sided dice, which almost resemble balls.

“But those don’t really stop rolling, so they’re not really essential,” said Farrell.

Specialized dice can cost hundreds. The store also sells board games, the classics like Monopoly, but many that are more obscure. Another big seller? Magic: The Gathering cards, which Farrell herself has refused to get into. 

A dice tower at Canton Games in Baltimore holds dice of every color and shape. 
A dice tower at Canton Games in Baltimore holds dice of every color and shape. (Stephanie Hughes/Marketplace)

“I’ve got other hobbies that suck out all of my spare money, ” said Farrell. 

Though, right now, people are spending less money on their hobbies. Retail sales out this week from the Commerce Department showed that sales in sporting goods, hobby, musical instrument and book stores were down 5.4% in April from a year ago. Sales for the category including garden equipment and supplies were down from last year, too, about 3.7%. So, small businesses that sell equipment for pastimes have to rely on people getting hooked on a hobby, and eventually coming back to feed their habit. 

Farrell’s big hobby? She raises plants. 

Which is actually what they sell a few blocks over at Kelley Gardens, a store that opened two years ago. One customer, Jason Ross, is purchasing a green leafy plant for $30. And actually, he has some questions about those leaves. 

“I’ve got dogs at home that tend to maybe chew a thing or two. This isn’t a toxic type of plant?” asked Ross.

“Well, actually it would fall in the toxic–it’s not going to kill the dog. I’ll say that,” said the store’s owner Chris Kelley.

Ross decided to go for it, and keep the plant out of reach of the dogs. He said that he buys plants every two weeks in the springtime. 

Chris Kelley opened Kelley Gardens, a store in Baltimore, two years ago. (Stephanie Hughes/Marketplace)

Kelley, who’s wearing a gray t-shirt that says “plant guy,” knows he’s competing with spending on pets and dinners out. But also that, even with hobby spending down overall, real plant lovers can’t stop. 

“I’m doing better this year than I did last year. So sounds like I’m on the right path,” said Kelley. 

He also offers services: he goes to people’s homes, and will re-pot all the plants they bought at the start of the pandemic.

A sign reads "All I need is a plant and that other plant and those plants and there ... look!"
A sign in Kelley Gardens hints at how people can become plant addicts. (Stephanie Hughes/Marketplace)


Just down the street is Tochterman’s Fishing Tackle, which is over a century old. When customers enter, they pass under two rows of fishing rods positioned like an arch of sabres. 

At the register, one of the owners, Deanna Tochterman, is talking to a customer about how to use lugworms as live bait. 

“Keep them cold like a bloodworm. Treat them the same way,” said Tochterman.

A customer stands below an arch of fishing rods in Tochterman's Fishing Tackle.
A customer stands below an arch of fishing rods in Tochterman’s Fishing Tackle, a store in Baltimore.(Stephanie Hughes/Marketplace)

Also, they bite, she warned. 

The lugworms, which are twitching in the box, cost about $10. Elsewhere in the shop, you can spend hundreds, or even over a thousand on fishing gear, like reels and rods.

And, people have.

“Two years ago was fantastic because you couldn’t do anything else but fish,” said Tony Tochterman, another owner (and Deanna’s husband). 

That growth has slowed a bit, but he isn’t worried. Because once you get into fishing there’s always more you can buy. To that point, Tim Campbell, a sales associate in the store, reads a sign on the bait fridge. 

“It says ‘Give a man a fish, and he has food for a day. Teach a man to fish, and he has to buy bamboo rods, graphite reels, monofilament lines, neoprene waders, tackle boxes, lures, spinners, 20 pocket vests, fish finders, depth sounders, radar, boats, trailers, global positioning systems, coolers, and six packs,” laughed Campbell.

Or teach a woman to be a gamer, and there’s always more dice to buy.

A sign on the bait fridge at Tochterman's plays off of a classic proverb.
A sign on the bait fridge at Tochterman’s plays off of a classic proverb. (Stephanie Hughes/Marketplace)

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