Mac's Hobby Hall will be missed
Mac's Hobby Hall has become a landmark of sorts in the community.
Within Bethlehem's ever-changing retail landscape, the mom-and-pop shop has been a steady anchor for hobbyists and fishermen alike. One could always depend on Mac's to find just the right train, paint, lure or line.
But after 66 years in business, the longtime fixture at 721 Linden St. will be closing its doors.
With the recent passing of owner Elva L. Shuck, keeping the store afloat has become an overwhelming task for son Robert Shuck, as well as daughters Lisa Ebner and Annette Frack.
The three siblings, along with other family members, have been shuffling their schedules to operate the store in between their full-time jobs. Without their mother, who was present at the shop seven days a week, the undertaking has proved to be too much.
"It's a lot of hours, and we just can't do it," Robert Shuck explains.
One of Bethlehem's earliest hobby stores, Mac's Hobby Hall has a long history. It was founded in 1946 by Gertrude Goodman Makagon (1907-2001), a 1925 Liberty HS graduate.
Longtime residents may recall that the original store was located at 516 Broadway. It wasn't there long, however, before it moved in 1948 to nearby 315 W. Fourth St., opposite the Flatiron Building.
Mrs. Mak (where Mac's gets its name) stocked her shelves with everything from HO scale trains to art and school supplies.
A hobbyist in those early days could pick from a full range of gas-powered planes, cars and boats. If their interests lay elsewhere, they had their choice from any number of other educational toys and handicrafts.
Looking back, the founding of Mac's Hobby Hall coincided with a very exciting time in the hobby industry. A new variety of an age-old pastime was at the brink of explosion in postwar America: mass produced plastic model kits.
Manufacturers such as Revell, AMT and Monogram began turning out countless model cars, aircraft, ships and armored vehicles. The hobby flourished. Over the decades, countless fathers and sons have tinkered with parts and pieces, creating dream cars or crafting unique machinery found only within their imaginations.
In 1968 Makagon moved her business to North Bethlehem, setting up shop in the former Lehigh Valley Motor Club building at 721 Linden St.
When Makagon retired in 1980, Mac's Hobby Hall was sold to Vince Tiscio. It was under Tiscio's ownership that an addition was added in 1982, doubling the store's floor space. Tiscio also expanded the line of products, adding live bait, tackle and other outdoor gear to a new, highly popular fishing section.
At one point in the 80s, Mac's Hobby Hall was the largest dealer of Dungeons and Dragons materials in the Lehigh Valley, supplying D&D enthusiasts with everything needed for the fantasy game.
Ownership of Mac's entered the hands of Tiscio's sister, Cecile Bear, before she put the store up for sale in 1991.
It was then that the Shuck family entered the scene. The chance for neighboring couple Robert and Elva Shuck to run a business just across the street from their home on East Garrison Street sounded too good to be true, so the family purchased the shop.
As neighbors, the Shucks' have a long history with Mac's Hobby Hall. Growing up across the street, Robert Shuck, Lisa Ebner and Annette Frack would often visit the store as children.
"We used to come in and talk to Mrs. Mak," recalls Lisa. "We'd come in and think we were helping out, but really, we were so little it wasn't helping out at all."
As new owners, the Shucks had to learn the ins and outs of the hobby business. Elva Shuck, who was the main operator of the store, became very knowledgeable in directing customers to the proper paints and advising them on just the right type of glue to use for a particular project.
"She used to put the RC trucks together for people if they bought them," said Lisa. "She learned as she went."
Robert remembers a time when engineering students from Lehigh University would come into the shop to purchase balsa wood, destined to become bridges for school projects.
Like clockwork, fathers and sons would make an annual pilgrimage to Mac's each spring to purchase Pinewood Derby kits. Loaded down with spiffy decals, extra weights, and graphite powder for super-fast wheels, young Scouts would always leave the store with visions of future glory.
But in today's technology-obsessed culture, once timeless hobbies like model rockets and trains have given way to the latest smartphone. Hobbies that involve time and skill no longer hold the interest of this younger, fast-paced generation.
Still, Mac's Hobby Hall will be missed. Like an old friend, Mac's was always there, supplying young and old alike with their favorite pastimes.
On behalf of the people of Bethlehem, thank you, Mac's Hobby Hall, for 66 years of service.