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Fountain Hobby Center

Passing the Test of Time

By Melissa Smith

Fountain Hobby Center sign
Sign above Fountain Hobby Center on Charleston's West Side. Photograph by Michael Keller.

A weathered sign mounted high on a storefront at the corner of Bigley and Washington streets on Charleston's West Side welcomes customers to Fountain Hobby Center. The old sign serves as an appropriate symbol for this time-tested family business that has managed to survive floods, fires, and the fierce onslaught of modern retail giants for more than 55 years.

Inside, Fountain Hobby Center is nothing like those trendy mall stores. You won't find bright lights, eye-catching displays, or the latest music pounding through your ears. In fact, there's not even a bar code in sight. What you will find, though, are two generations of the Morse family, offering their loyal customers old-fashioned service and a floor-to-ceiling array of hard-to-find items. These modest, proud, and hard-working individuals are holding onto a business and a way of life that are quickly becoming a thing of the past.

Locals insist that the interior of Fountain Hobby Center has not changed since the store moved to its present location 40 years ago. If you look closely, you can still see where the soda fountain stools from the old Valley Bell store have left their imprint every few feet on the store's original tile floor. The homey interior is overflowing with seasonal merchandise, games, toys, train tracks, beads, wooden items, puzzles, pipe cleaners, pom-poms, books on local history, and some items you would be hard-pressed to name, much less find anywhere else.

Fountain Hobby Center is well-known throughout the area for providing locals with a complete line of supplies for practically any imaginable hobby or craft. They stock everything from electric trains and remote-controlled cars and airplanes, to stamp and coin collecting materials, art supplies, costumes, and theatrical supplies.

Sitting down with owners Chuck and Shirley Morse to discuss how their family-run business evolved from a small soda fountain to a successful craft and hobby shop is no small task. The personal touch on which they pride themselves, and has helped to make their business so successful, really complicated matters when I tried to sit down with them to reminisce one rainy day last October.

The store constantly hums with activity and customers. Most are greeted personally by the Chuck or Shirley or by daughters Cindy or Cathy, who also work in the store. As we tried to talk, the family members had to stop frequently to find a train part, answer incoming calls, greet friends, or chat with customers. This is the way of life at Fountain Hobby. The Morse family pride themselves on knowing their customers and being able to serve them well.

You can read the rest of this article in the Fall 2003 issue of Goldenseal, available in bookstores, libraries or direct from Goldenseal.