Like the kits it sells, Evett’s Model Shop is far more than the sum of its parts and that’s saying something given the quality of its parts: a veteran who parlayed a single model into a career, a formerly homeless master-builder who now repairs priceless movie props and a beloved matriarch keeping her husband’s passion alive.
The shop and its family of employees will celebrate 70 years in business this Saturday with refreshments, a few giveaways and a lot of shared memories dating back to the time Santa Monica built real planes. For many attendees, it will be a bittersweet celebration without the store’s founder.
Colby Evett was part of the city’s early aeronautics industry working as a plant foreman at the Donald Douglas Aircraft Company for 13 years. He opened the model shop with his first wife, Mary, in 1948 and by 1955 he had left the aircraft industry to work in the store full time. At that time, the store moved from Pico Blvd. to its current Ocean Park location.
Colby was more than just a hobbyist, he was a pioneer in the emerging field of radio control. He acquired a ham radio license and spent five years developing the technology to pair a model airplane with radio control, enabling ground based controllers to fly their planes. He continued with his passion for decades, evolving from wooden plans with paper skins to replicas of jet aircraft complete with their own small jet engines.
Colby was unable to fly in his later years as his health declined and he died in 2013 from complications from pneumonia. However, his legacy at the store continue to provide a creative outlet for locals with the building bug.
Longtime customer Brad Summers began building models as an activity at his grandparents’ house and said he values the community around the shop. The specialized knowledge of the employees and good selection of products are valuable, but he also likes seeing the work of other local builders in the windows.
“It’s convenient, there’s no waiting for it to be delivered. You can walk in and get what you need … It’s also nice to deal with somebody. I’ve known Gene and the guys for years and you’ve got to come in for the cookies.”
The selection of homemade baked treats are Yvonne Evett’s secret weapon in the ongoing battle against online stores.
“You don’t get treats with Amazon,” she said.
Yvonne was not a model enthusiast when she became Colby’s second wife but she grew to share his love for the business and said she keeps the store open to stay connected to Colby. She said she and her late husband were a good fit and enjoyed their time traveling together. According to Yvonne, Colby’s passion for the RC business blossomed within the community and the remote-controlled vehicles are now the bulk of the store’s sales. She said it appeals to generations that want something more interactive.
“That’s what people like to do more,” she said.
The store does more than just sell the vehicles and has a thriving business building vehicles for customers or repairing vehicles.
Store employee Luke Orrin now runs the RC side of Evett’s. Orrin, a Marine Corps veteran, had a passion for models as a kid and got into the business when he noticed a backlog of repairs in the store that had piled up due to Colby’s ill health. He traded a model as payment for a repair and the work impressed Colby who brought Orrin on as the new RC technician.
Orrin has since brought in a few local youth to teach them the same building skills he learned and he said the teaching experience has inspired him to look for more ways to connect with kids. The store entered the annual 4th of July parade last year and in addition to expanding their parade entry, Orrin wants to develop stronger connections with youth through extracurricular activities.
Orrin said coming to work somewhere he loves is as valuable as the paycheck.
“It’s really important to stay connected to the thing that makes you happy and excited,” he said of working in a model shop.
That’s a sentiment shared by coworker and master model builder Gene Duarte.
“I build because I like to do it,” he said. “It’s just part of my lifestyle, my creative outlet.”
Duarte came to the business when he helped the store sell some rare kits online and he’s built a reputation for his physical construction skills.
Duarte takes custom orders from clients for specific builds. Sometimes the builds are for established kits or advanced collectibles but his ability to execute fine detail work has become an in-demand skill for the movie industry’s physical prop world and startup companies that want prototype products. He’s currently booked out for about three months on special project work but he said the demand ebbs and flows over the course of the year.
Yvonne said she hopes to see friends new and old this Saturday, January 13 for their birthday celebration from 11 a.m. – 6 p.m. at the store, 1636 Ocean Park Blvd. Call (310) 452-2720 for more information or visit https://evettsmodelshop.com.