OCEAN PARK BLVD — Keshawn McPherson and Andrew Allison, both 11, stood in Evett’s Model Shop Saturday afternoon and marveled at the hand-built model airplanes hanging from the ceiling and the toy helicopter being prepped from a makeshift flight pad on the counter.
Neither had ever seen the inside of a model shop before, and for someone in their generation it’s not easy. Evett’s is the last model shop on the Westside, the rest having fallen long ago to the pressures of the Internet and video games.
Both boys were clutching make-your-own glider kits in their hands, a nod to when children sought out toys specifically because assembly was required.
“It’s awesome,” McPherson said. “I can’t believe he built all of this.”
The “he” is 93-year-old Colby Evett of Evett’s Model Shop, which celebrated its 65th anniversary in Santa Monica on Saturday.
The store has been serving up the ingredients many found necessary for childhood since 1948, and the community turned out to celebrate the store and its owners, Colby and Yvonne Evett, with cake, laughter and memories.
The walls are covered in the raw materials of model construction. Glues, paints and magnifying glasses stuff the shelves and Colby Evett’s completed versions of the planes hang caught in perpetual flight from the ceilings.
It’s the kind of place that not only sells last-minute gifts, but wraps them for you too on the way to the party.
Colby Evett is a frail 93, but continues to go into the shop every day. Although poor eyesight means he can no longer take an active role in sales and repairs, Evett’s mind is still sharp and he fields questions about the many bits and bobs in his store with ease.
Grateful patrons, many of whom have been coming to the store since they were too small to see over the counter, waded through a crowd of visitors to greet Colby and Yvonne. It felt like a family reunion — cries of “Oh my god, darling!” echoed through the store as childhood friends rediscovered each other and reminisced about the days of five-cent Hershey’s chocolate bars and the old five-and-dime shop.
John Wilson, a lifelong Santa Monica resident, got his start at the store building World War II-era model airplanes. He still pops in occasionally, despite the fact that his model-building tendencies veer toward ships in bottles these days.
Evett came to California from South Carolina for the Golden State’s burgeoning aviation industry. He got a job at the Douglas Aircraft Company where he worked for 13 years.
Evett’s first wife, Mary, opened the shop in 1948 when Evett was still working at the Douglas Aircraft Company in Santa Monica. It took seven years, but he left a secure and lucrative job as a plant foreman to run the store full time.
“I spent a life playing with my hobbies,” Evett said.
Evett was himself, an enthusiast. He built the model aircraft from the ground up, spending months at a time constructing the delicate creations out of light wood and thin paper.
His experience with real airplanes and his love of flight inspired him to do what was, at the time, a revolutionary act — pairing radio technology with his planes, which allowed him to control the aircraft from the ground.
“I felt that was the future,” Evett said.
It took him five years to develop the system, but Evett was one of the early pioneers of remote-controlled model airplanes. He also helped found Apollo Field, a model aircraft airspace, in the valley as well as the Valley Flyers club.
In 1955, the shop moved from its original location on Pico Boulevard to its current storefront on Ocean Park Boulevard. Cathy, Evett’s daughter, practically grew up in the store with her mother and father.
“I learned math counting change in the cash register,” she said.
Yvonne and Evett Colby married in 2000, and she began helping out with the shop. The mother of seven had never played with models before, but she enjoyed the interaction with the customers and learning the business.
Things have changed since Cathy Evett was learning her numbers at the counter, and even since Yvonne came on board to man the storefront. Kits come practically pre-assembled, depriving kids of the chance to spend time exploring the way the components come together to make the models work.
It’s still a step up from the big box stores and online retailers, the small store’s chief competition. Luke Orrins, a radio-controlled model enthusiast and all-around model MacGyver dismisses those trinkets as “disposable” because they come glued together in such a way that they can’t be disassembled and repaired.
It’s in small stores like Evett’s where the magic still happens, he said.
Despite the enthusiasm some in the community still hold for the store, it has had difficulty holding on as the ease of online purchasing has made it more convenient for model builders to order things online rather than come to the store.
“The Internet has done a number on us,” Yvonne Evett said.
Their suppliers undercut them in online sales, making it more expensive to frequent the shop than to take your chances with the digital stores. Still, the store gets by on its holiday sales, spare parts and solid customer service where so many others have failed.
Yvonne Evett doesn’t plan to close anytime soon.
“We’re going to keep the doors open as long as we can,” she said.