Cover photo for Merlin Paul Hayes's Obituary
Merlin Paul Hayes Profile Photo

Merlin Paul Hayes

April 24, 1947 — November 23, 2023

Roseville, California

Merlin Paul Hayes

Merlin Paul Hayes was born in Bedford, Iowa, on April 24, 1947, to Audrey and Paul Hayes. He was the oldest of three boys. He grew up in Harlan, Iowa, in the 1950’s. After his parents got divorced, he and his younger brother left for California and lived here for several years. Merlin worked several jobs to support them both. It was in the 1960’s that he joined the Marine Corps. He was honorably discharged after several months with a medical condition for flat feet. After several years of living in California, he and his younger brother moved back to Harlan, Iowa, when they both reached the age of 18. 

In Harlan, Iowa, Merlin met his first wife Mary, and they were married shortly thereafter. They had one daughter together, Christine. 

Merlin opened his first slot car track in Harlan in the late 1960’s and ran it for several years. Because many of his slot car customers lived in Lincoln, Nebraska, he decided to move there and open a new slot car track. Merlin and Mary, along with his younger brother, operated it for a few years. In 1973, he moved the store to Bethany, a small neighborhood in Lincoln, and renamed the store to Great Race and Lobby Place where it remained until it was moved sometime later. The slot car track continued to draw a following with many customers from across the Midwest participating in races.  Each year there was a special race called the Great Plains Race which drew people from a considerable distance.  Merl also started to sell radio-controlled cars in the early 1970’s and organized races with 1/8th scale gas cars.  He also attracted the Midwest organizing body of racers called Heart of America and held one event in Lincoln, Nebraska, each year.  He would often travel to other cities to compete in the races and was quite good.  Merl continued to race 1/8th scale and even quarter scale for over 25 years and still loved to compete even after that.

In 1978, Merlin met Thom Walla who stopped by the store in Bethany and after a few months they formed a partnership that continued to the present day. In May of 1980, HobbyTown USA was born. After a few years of success, the partnership wanted to expand and decided to explore both opening stores on their own and the franchise model.  During the 1980’s there was little to no competition in the hobby market as far as a franchise model although there were a considerable number of independent hobby stores in the country.  They contacted the University of Nebraska to do a study on the feasibility of a hobby store franchise and was politely told it wouldn’t work due to the number of products a Hobby store typically carried in inventory.  Most franchises at the time were fast food where the item selection on the Menu was pretty small by comparison. Despite the study, the idea stuck and by 1986 they had formed a corporation to franchise stores. 

By 1995 they opened their 100th location, and by the late 1990’s, the growth of HobbyTown continued and sometime between 2000 and 2008 reached over 180 stores nationwide. 

In 2008, Merlin moved back to California, although he did not leave the company and continued to work and advise. Six years later, in the fall of 2014, Merlin met his second wife, Juanita at a Starbucks in Sacramento. They got married 5 years later in June 2019. He welcomed two step daughters and three granddaughters into his family. He retired from his position of founder and CEO of HobbyTown in 2019. He then enjoyed the remainder of his life surrounded by his wife and family doing the things he enjoyed most in life.  Merlin passed away peacefully in the comfort of his home and the presence of his wife. 

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Past Services

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Friday, December 15, 2023

9:30 - 10:30 am (Pacific time)

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Mass of Christian Burial

Friday, December 15, 2023

11:30am - 12:30 pm (Pacific time)

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Reception

Friday, December 15, 2023

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Interment

Tuesday, January 23, 2024

1:00 - 1:30 pm (Pacific time)

Sacramento Valley National Cemetery

5810 Midway Road, Dixon, CA 95620

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