Among the ranks of the first shops in the mall, I first heard of it when I watched the first season of “Shining Time Station” in the early 1990s; the Great Train Store was listed as one of the sponsors of that Americanized version of the British kiddie telly show “Thomas The Tank Engine And Friends.” And when I finally set foot in the mall, inside I went!
And it did not ever cease to lure me inside on each and every subsequent visit. I walked up so mesmerized that even the sounds and screams coming from the patrons on rumbling roller coasters a stone’s throw away at Camp Snoopy did not make me give the park so much as a glance as I strolled up wondering “What will I find to buy today?”
The staff was always friendly and cordial, and the selection enticing beyond description: train locomotives on display inside glass cases, shelves full of model railroad cars and other equipment, rows of books, a VCR playing train videos (in front of which on one visit I spied a middle-aged male train fan sitting in front of it pigging out on a salad! Now that’s enthusiasm for a hobby…) and so on and so forth.
I especially liked how they had a large-scale train suspended from the ceiling which also ran outside above the front windows facing the rotunda through its own model railroad world of hills, homes, telegraph poles, etc. A very classy touch, that, and one that always put me in the mood to buy stuff.
The magic lasted, and lasted, and lasted until the cornucopia emptied for good in 2000 when the entire chain closed; a sad fate for such a wonderful place for a model railroader/railfan like me. QVC soon took over the space, but then gave way to the tenants it has now.
So today people walk by where it once stood assuming, perhaps, it always was Mayo Clinic Healthy Living and Build A Bear Workshop.
I know different: it first was occupied by where you could walk in hearing, say, “ … I got the great train blues …” being sung on the overhead and greeted by a friendly associate asking “Can I help you find anything?” as a train fan entered a place that was pure paradise for them.