Saturday, August 14, 2004

What Happened to Train Stores?

Originally uploaded by mrkuffler.

I know this has been lamented by several magazines and hundreds of (if not thousands) of TCA Members but I wanted to put something into writing; I miss the old Train Stores.

You all know what I am talking about; the Madison Hardwares of the world. I did get to go Madison Hardware once when I was young. The place was like walking into Nirvana. And Lou and Carl were every bit as friendly and decent as others have remembered over the years.

I actually grew up in Detroit. In Detroit, there were some great train stores - One was called "Downtown Train and Camera". There was another one on 9 mile road and Woodward (I think it was called "Ferndale Toy Train"?). These places were nothing less than amazing.

They were always packed with trains of all shapes and sizes. They were huge! And the people that owned them did trains full time. They weren't retired from this or that, they didn't have other businesses, they just did trains. And they had all kinds of interesting trains (Standard Gauge, Prewar Tinplate, etc..).

It isn't that there aren't good train stores out there now but it just isn't the same. My local train store sells paint guns and fireworks as well as trains (the owner says that he needs to make money on the off-train season) but I don't particularly like exposing my family to things that shoot and explode.

Quite a few of the train stores in New York are excellent but they are also chocked full of whatever the owner can sell in the "off season". Slot cars, model rockets, plastic models and stuff that is just plain junk. There are many stores in the Tri-State Area (CT, NY, NJ) that are just trains but the standard gauge is few and far between (I always get the "there just aren't enough people interested."). Apparently every customer is a high railer looking for a Mikado for $1200.

Why do I have such fond memories of old train stores? When I was young (1971), I remember my Dad taking me into a train store (no paintguns, no models, the train store also had a coin and stamp dealer next to it) and getting three freight cars made in Germany for 3 bucks. I played with those cars for about 5 years. The store is gone, the cars are gone but it was the best 3 bucks my Mom ever spent.

My Dad used to tell me about what it was like to be a kid on the 40's in Detroit. He said that my experiences were only mere shadows of what it was like when he was a kid. He told me even the major department stores (like Hudson's in Detroit) had amazing layouts and had toys from several manufacturers (Flyer, Lionel and Marx) that were always breathtaking. He also told me that he had seen several layouts in Detroit (long gone) of stunning standard gauge that would require you to pry your jaw off the floor. He told me he hadn't seen anything like it since he was a kid.

My Grandmother also kicked in - she said that when she was a kid (in the 20's) she could ride a trolley across the entire Detroit area for a nickle. She told me that whole neighborhoods and cities are gone (as well as the trolleys), paved over by highway. Who'd have thought that malls and Walmart would dominate the retail landscape? So much for progress.

Please share any stories or pics you have of amazing train stores!


1 comment:

Gilbert Ives said...

JustTrains Train Stores:

East Coast: Nicholas Smith
West Coast: Allied Model Trains