Eugene A. Hinson Jr., owner of Dad and Sons Discount Hobbies Inc., has an odd business strategy. "We take a loss in order to gain a product, and we give that product away."
Customers at his Glen Burnie store get a 10 percent discount for any donation of money, canned food or toys they bring in for the area's needy families.
The discount is good for any of the miniature locomotives, train stations, hand-made display accessories, metal detectors, model cars and other hobby items neatly packed into his two-room shop on Thelma Avenue near Crain Highway. Mr. Hinson, 42, operates the shop with a partner, Alan Bushey, 38.
Hr Hinson has been taking in donations every fall and winter since 1990, the year he opened the store. It's his way of returning the outpouring of charity that he, his wife and five children received in 1989.
Members of Mr. Hinson's church, Severna Park United Methodist, helped his family during the months he spent recovering from a leg injury suffered when he fell while cleaning a chimney.
"If it wasn't for them, I wouldn't be where I am today," he said yesterday in his store. "They helped my family with house bills, food and different things. This is why I turn around and do this."
But this year business has been down, and with it the number of contributions. Yesterday, a few cans of corn, chili, chicken and vegetable soup and other food were stacked beneath a brightly decorated Christmas tree in the middle of the store's front room. Customers can leave money in a glass jar near the cash register.
Sean Deegan, 12, of Linthicum already has taken advantage of the discount. He brings a can of food whenever he buys tracks, buildings, cars and other parts for his miniature train system.
"I guess it's to help people," he said of the collection program.
Mr. Hinson gives the food and money to the food pantry of the North County Emergency Outreach Network (NCEON) and the Adopt-a-Family program of the Ferndale Fire Department. He also donates trains and accessories as prizes to the Train Garden Display, which benefits NCEON.
The Train Garden will be displayed at Glen Burnie Mall Nov. 24 through Dec. 23. For $1 people can enter a drawing to win the display or other prizes.
Through Adopt-a-Family, the Ferndale Fire Department gives families a Christmas turkey dinner, other food and toys, said Jacki Olson, who started the program five years ago. She said Mr. Hinson's contributions make the program "even more successful, because [this year's] donations are not as big as they usually are."
Though Mr. Hinson usually takes contributions from October to January, he said he will make the discounts-for-donations program year-round. "You can't save the world, but you can do the best you can do," he said.