There was a time when Lionel, known for its model railroading, was the largest toy manufacturer in the world. That was 1953, and many kids who grew up in that era turned that interest into a hobby that lasted for decades.
More than half a century later, Long Island features a dwindling number of train and hobby stores who sell or service Lionel trains. One of them is at 411 Jericho Turnpike in New Hyde Park.
In fact, it is the only remaining authorized Lionel value-added dealer in Nassau County.
Pat Russo, proprietor, was one of those boys who loved model trains. The New Hyde Park resident, who attended works in the carpentry and home improvement business, which is his vocation. His avocation is the hobby shop he took over 15 years ago.
The recession hit most independent businesses very hard, especially the hobby business. Russo estimates his business is down 20 percent in 2010 from the previous year. To differentiate his store from the others and to remain relevant, Russo attended a three-day Lionel school in Ohio to learn the latest in electronics so he could become an authorized dealer. The new Lionel trains run on circuit boards and Russo is the only one in the county authorized to service these new trains.
In recent years, Russo has also evolved from selling trains, parts and accessories via mail order to eBay.
"When you have the right items, they sell," he said.
Russo said those kids today who are interested in trains want the latest electronics, not the old-school stuff that their parents and grandparents loved. It is a changing business, he admits, but it is still something Russo loves to be involved in.
"I enjoy it very much," he said. When he hears about youngsters who are interested in the trains, he knows they may not keep up with it their entire life, but it may be a springboard to engineering or other career pursuits. "The younger kids appreciate the imagination, the creativity and the trouble-shooting skills that go into this hobby. It prepares you for life," he said.
Traditional Trains & Hobbies sells more than just model trains. They sell model airplanes and cars as well as accessories including parts, batteries, remote controls, paint and glue.
Russo has an extensive array of Woodland Scenics, which features realistic model scenery for all modeling projects. Included in that assortment are car blocks and kits for PineCar Derby Racer and kits for Sailboat Racer.
Business hours are Tuesday to Saturday, noon to 5 p.m., and Sunday from noon to 3 p.m. The store is closed Mondays.