[Headline: Folded Wings]
Ron Cicerchi was a U.S. Marine who returned to Cleveland after World War II and worked at Midland Steel Company as a punch-press operator until he lost his arm in a car accident and had to quit. Despite his injury, Ron frequently shopped at Wings Hobby Shop in Cleveland. When Wings’ original owner put it up for sale in 1947, Ron bought the business and successfully ran it until he retired in 1987.
In 1965, Ron moved Wings to Detroit Avenue in Lakewood, Ohio. Eventually Wings expanded to approximately 3,000 square feet and became a renowned gathering place for model airplane enthusiasts, miniature train hobbyists, history buffs, crafters, and those in need of kits, model building supplies, books, and magazines.
When I came to Cleveland to practice law in 1969, my wife and I bought our first home in Lakewood. I soon began making regular pilgrimages to Wings and often took our children with me. They usually went because of the toys that Wings carried, but they always enjoyed the trips.
As soon as my second son, Christopher, learned to ride his bike, he made an unauthorized, unescorted, 2-mile trip to Wings on Lakewood sidewalks! I didn’t get upset when I found out about it, but I cautioned Chris that he was still too young to make the trip alone I told him to let me know when he wanted to go and promised him that I would take him in the family car until he was old enough to safely make the trip alone.
In the mid-1970s, I began teaching model airplane building classes in the Lakewood Public Schools. At one point, the school kids and I built six Catapult Gliders of F4J Phantoms in Blue Angels markings. The finished models hung in diamond formation from the Wings ceiling for years.
Later my good friend and master builder, Gene Klemanek, placed nearly 20 exquisite models on display at Wings. Some of these are depicted in the photos. Gene’s models inspired many of Wings’ customers.
Despite the explosive arrival of computers in US business, Ron showed no interest in creating a website or in expanding Wings’ business online. Ron’s son, Al, was computer literate and when Ron retired in 1987, Al became Wings’ owner and modernized the business. Al hoped that his son would join the family business, but his son decided to go into another line of work.
Reflecting on Wings’ decline, Al cited several painful realities. First, after the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, Wings business plummeted. Second, the 2008-2009 recession hurt the business. Third, the original customers who supported Wing’s success were getting old and passing on. Fourth, fewer children and young adults were taking up modeling as a pastime. Fifth, American society had evolved into one of instant gratification. Customers increasingly wished to purchase prebuilt models rather than to spend time building them.
Al is nearing retirement age and wants to spend more time with his three children and five grandchildren. Hobby Castle, an even older Cleveland-area hobby shop, recently closed its doors. Al tried to sell Wings, but could not find a buyer. Ironically, he believes that hobby businesses remain viable as part of the still-thriving craft and art market.
Cleveland still has some fine hobby shops, including Parma Hobby on Ridge Road, that offer places to gather with fellow modelers to discuss the hobby, make purchases, and participate in model building sessions sponsored by the Cleveland Free Flight Society.
Model building is still alive and well. It promises to continue for as long as people enjoy history, craftsmanship, and creating things with their hands.[dingbat]
National Free Flight Society (NFFS)
Cleveland Free Flight Society
Rich Weber, president
9154 Eldorado Trail
Strongsville OH 44136