Johnstown store fills big void for little vehicles

JOHNSTOWN — Ryan Holland’s involvement with radio-controlled cars and trucks occurs seven days a week.

It began, just three years ago, when a friend invited him to a place in Troy where people gathered to race the scaled miniatures. Holland used his friend’s car that day but had his own model less than a week later.

Within a few months, he built Foxtrot RC Park on land he uses at Checkers Out Speedway, a go-cart track in Johnstown. Dozens of people began showing up at Foxtrot on race day — Sundays — to battle for supremacy on the little dirt track’s high banks.

Just like full-sized motor vehicles, the radio-controlled miniatures can be repaired if damaged. They can also be upgraded with sturdier or prettier parts than the stock pieces from the factory. Holland knew how to secure these parts, and his race track patrons began requesting his help with procurement.

“I had a lot of people coming to me weekly asking me to get them this, or get them that,” Holland said recently. “I was putting in orders every week. It kind of took off, and here I am.”

Holland was standing inside Upstate RC and Hobbies, a store he launched in late March at 295 N. Comrie Ave. Open on nights and Saturdays, the shop was expected to remain a sideline while Holland worked as a traveling commercial appliance technician.

The store became a full-time, six-day operation in late June, after Holland quit his day job in order to devote seven days a week to the RC industry.

“I was making a good amount just in the part-time hours that I was in here,” he said.

Upstate RC and Hobbies is open from Monday to Saturday, and closed on Sunday when Holland is running Foxtrot RC Park.

The radio-controlled cars and trucks sold in the store are toys, but they are not like the simple devices given to toddlers and which clumsily bump into chairs and walls in a living room. Holland stocks vehicles powered by electric motors and featuring sophisticated suspensions and tires made of rubber.

They cost from $180 to $600 and some are geared for traveling at great speeds.

“You can buy them right out of the box and they’ll do 50 miles an hour,” Holland said. The speeds can be increased, after additional tweaking.

The store features models produced by Traxxas, a Texas-based toymaker founded in 1986. Holland pointed to a Traxxas E-Revo, a $600 monster truck with bodywork painted in purple, orange and white.

“That big one there does about 65 miles an hour,” he said.

The radio-controlled toy segment contains many types of miniature vehicles, including airplanes and drones, but also cars and trucks powered by small piston engines.

Holland, his sales restricted to vehicles having electric propulsion, offers models designed for different environments and scenarios. Some of the cars, equipped with wheelie bars and giant tires in back, are made for the straight-line speeds of drag races.

Others, featuring locking differentials and fancy suspensions, can make slow, careful progression through rocky canyons and other torturous courses. In addition to the cars and trucks designed for traction around circle dirt tracks, there are the machines run for “bashing” — or having them do flips and other aerobatics over backyard jumps.

“Most of my business is bashers,” Holland said.

Rising sales allowed Holland to make Upstate RC and Hobbies a full-time occupation, but the store’s performance is not unique. Holland said his Traxxas factory representative told him that demand for the products has remained high since March 2020, when the Covid-19 pandemic shuttered many schools and offices and people found themselves with lots of free time.

Demand for the toys has shown no signs of subsiding, Holland said, because many of the homebound learned to enjoy the diversions provided by radio-controlled toys.

“Even today, over a year later, Traxxas is still struggling to fill orders,” he added.

The majority of customers are men, though Holland remains surprised by the number of female patrons. He said some come in to buy the toys as gifts for men, and others — after seeing the little cars and trucks in action and usually after trying one — stop by to buy a basher of their own.

With sections stocked with paints and cleaners and tires and wheels, along with new models on display, Upstate RC and Hobbies resembles a miniature automotive dealership. There is even an area in back where Holland can service and repair the machines.

The owner wants to grow the service segment of his business, and realizes his customers will be tempted with endless choices of hardware.

“They have thousands and thousands of different parts for these,” Holland said as he held a car whose angular body was shaped like a modified dirt-track racer. “This is why I fell in love with it.”

By Paul Wager