As a native new yorker, I had Macys and gimbels. With dad we would make our annual trip into the city. We would go first to lionel and get a new catalog, then up to Madison hardware to purchase a car or a trackside piece. Then onto American Flyer showroom. Then the bus ride up to 34th street. Spent lots of time watching the big layout at macys. Then over to gimbels witch did not have that much,  then the long bus ride over bridge to Sunnyside Queens. We  had a Sears and Strauss store which stocked a large amount of Lionel. And we had Sunnyside Hobbies next to the Center Theater which only had American Flyer. I am still attached to the large department stores as I collect charge coins and most are front the larger department stores (gimbles, macys, lit bros., bush & bhul, kaufmans, etc. I have over five hundred charge coins.

initagain posted:

No question about it, Lionel trains were VERY pervasive in the 1950s and 1960s.  I'm 74 now, but I can remember like it was yesterday, going to the J. L. Hudson store in downtown Detroit around Christmas, every year for many years and being absolutely overwhelmed by the amount of trains they had on display and for sale.  I grew up and still live in a small Ontario city of about 40000 people.  Back in the fifties and sixties the population was even less, and yet I can still remember at least six different stores (all within the downtown area) that sold Lionel trains.  They were literally, everywhere, albeit not nearly as plentiful as in that Hudson store.  BTW, that department store, like so many, is long gone.  Great memories though.

 

I was looking to see if anyone mentioned J.L.Hudsons. I am a former Detroiter,72 y/o. Fond memories of the Hudson Christmas train layout and the stacks of RTR sets ready to go home to some lucky kids. Not a store but the Ford Rotunda Christmas display was my first viewing of a large O/S gauge layouts.

I wish today’s youngsters could have something similar to what we had with these magnificent and even breathtaking department “ CHristmas Toylands “of our era.  They obviously provided us with not only amazing pleasure at the time but enduring fond memories of our visits there. 

I don’t believe that kids nowadays have anything comparable to treasure like that. A shame.

Dave Warburton posted:
Lou N posted:
rockstars1989 posted:

I can remember pushing my whole face against the glass and launching myself into LA LA land. Dream is all I could do. Nick

Nick,

Do you remember the trains displays at Halle Brothers 7th floor toyland in Cleveland?  I remember when Super O came out. Oh to have had a camera.  (Keep in mind I'm 68).

Lou N

Mr. Jingaling at Halle’s!  And The Hobby House on Huron, Trading Post on Pearl Road and my favorite, Jaye and Jaye Trains in East Cleveland. All Cleveland area train stores. Those were good times. 

Hi Dave,

Not sure the last time you were in town but there are no longer any department stores in downtown Cleveland, or Akron for that matter.

I did have the good fortune to interview Mr Jingaling (Earl Keyes) at his home some years ago.  I must find that tape.

Hobby House on Huron was always the last stop downtown because the 15 Union Avenue trackless trolley stopped there.

Lou N

 

It wasn't just a city phenomenon.

Department-store toylands and window displays, once such a vital part of the holiday season all over America, seem to have gone the way of the Triceratops.  And we are all the poorer for it.

When I was a kid during the Fifties, we all eagerly awaited the opening of the third-floor Toyland at Miller Hardware in Huntingdon, Pennsylvania.  In spite of its name, Miller Hardware was actually a well-stocked department store where you could find anything from a new washing machine to the latest record albums.  But immediately after the arrival of Santa Claus during the annual Huntingdon Christmas Parade, the Miller management would open its legendary Toyland on its third level.

During the off-season, I think the third floor housed the carpeting and home furnishings department.  I'm not entirely sure, because I never went up there during the off-season.  But at Christmastime, it became a kid magnet, a kaleidoscopic vista of every colorfully dazzling toy we could imagine, and a lot more.  When my friends and I ventured up there, it was as if we'd been elevated to some higher plane of existence.  We'd spend hours, gazing at the displays of things we knew perfectly well our parents could never afford.  That was what dreams were made of, and how we did dream!

There was, of course, an operating Lionel layout, where all the ingenious marvels we had only seen on catalog pages were brought to mesmerizingly noisy life.  I know some of the Plasticville on our own Christmas layout came from there, but not much else.  As much as we might have lusted after Lionel F-units, they were high-ticket items that only the offspring of the very well-heeled would ever see under their trees.

Nor did Miller's skimp on its window displays.  All of those glittering toys, trains included, danced before our glazed eyes in the store's big glass facade.  Seeing such treasures shining in the winter night on Washington Street, how could anyone resist going inside?  And resist we did not.

Huntingdon -- not where I was born, but where I did most of my growing up -- was a small town, but a busy and prosperous one in those days.  Across the street from Miller's was the much smaller Corcelius Hardware -- which actually was a hardware store.  But at Christmas time, the basement floor was turned into a small but well-stocked toyland of its own.  What made it even more unique was that the Corcelius toyland was dominated by American Flyer.  There was an operating Flyer layout with working accessories (I was particularly fascinated by the Oil Drum Loader, with its little fork-lift that dumped shiny little aluminum barrels into waiting S-scale gondolas).  And the tiered shelves where the Flyer locomotives were kept on display seemed strange and exotic to my Lionel-acclimated eyes.

My father worked in the Corcelius toyland one Christmas season, and he was always bringing home American Flyer catalogs, which I studied in scholarly absorption.

The town also supported two busy five-and-ten stores, G.C. Murphy and McCrory's.  Both of them sold Marx trains and accessories.  Murphy's was where my parents got the extra 027 track and switches for our Christmas layout. The Marx operating crossing gate and Marx hot-air-operated beacon were also Murphy's purchases.  Come to think of it, our Marx plastic water tank very likely came from there, too.

McCrory's Marx stock was a bit more limited, but still of considerable interest.  McCrory's was where I first saw a Marx 333 locomotive and its lithographed streamlined NYC passenger cars, shiny and new in their original box.  I was impressed.

So although we didn't live in or near a large city, Christmastime brought plenty of toy-train action our way, as we made our way from one store to another, breaths billowing in the chill December air.  And always in the background was the thunder and clatter of the 4-track PRR main line that ran along the edge of town.  How could we have imagined that within a pitifully few short years, all of it would be swept away, to live on only in memories?

I'm sure this scenario was repeated in most small towns across America.  We'll never know how many future model railroaders owed their first inspiration to those tinsel-covered toylands and gaudy window displays.



Lou N posted:
Dave Warburton posted:
Lou N posted:
rockstars1989 posted:

I can remember pushing my whole face against the glass and launching myself into LA LA land. Dream is all I could do. Nick

Nick,

Do you remember the trains displays at Halle Brothers 7th floor toyland in Cleveland?  I remember when Super O came out. Oh to have had a camera.  (Keep in mind I'm 68).

Lou N

Mr. Jingaling at Halle’s!  And The Hobby House on Huron, Trading Post on Pearl Road and my favorite, Jaye and Jaye Trains in East Cleveland. All Cleveland area train stores. Those were good times. 

Hi Dave,

Not sure the last time you were in town but there are no longer any department stores in downtown Cleveland, or Akron for that matter.

I did have the good fortune to interview Mr Jingaling (Earl Keyes) at his home some years ago.  I must find that tape.

Hobby House on Huron was always the last stop downtown because the 15 Union Avenue trackless trolley stopped there.

Lou N

 

I left Cleveland for sunnier climes ten years ago, and they were all gone by then. Just happy memories now!

The big store set ups were gone by the time I came into the world. but the train shows around the holiday that my dad and I went to were much better than we have today.  Wall to wall people(major anxiety issue with that for me) but the layouts and the trains were magical.   I lived in Erie, PA for awhile, Kraynaks down in Hermitage PA still puts on quite the xmas tree display and sometimes a train is under one. along with carrying a nice selection of trains, toys ect.   Next best thing is Mr Muffins trains just south of me in Atlanta, IN if one wants to see a massive train display.   I do wish I could fire up the way back machine to those window layouts of Higbees and so forth, like the one at the beginning of A Christmas Story.  Ralphie might have been staring at the BB gun, but was the Lionel trains that had my attention.  I always wanted to rewrite that movie to be about the trains and not the darn gun.   Great memories, keep the vintage pictures coming!      Mike the Aspie

Silly NT's...I have Asperger's Syndrome! 

Oh, no, Jim. You’re not going to force me to get all nostalgic about those bygone train displays. Like the ones Dayton’s would set up in the lobby area in front of its mall store in Rochester, MN, in the 1970s. Or the window displays at Manhattan department stores that I got to see all too infrequently during that same era. Or even the American Flyer display a local Ace Hardware set up annually until about a decade ago.

Geez, Jim, now you’ve done it. I’m all nostalgic. 

Jim R. 

For me growing up, Baltimore was the closest city.  Each first Saturday after Thanksgiving my family would catch the Greyhound to Baltimore early in the morning.   It was always a thrill coming into Baltimore on US route one, as the bus would cross over B&O's Wynans Yard, which in those days always had lots of action.  Next was the Western  Maryland grade crossing carrying the freight main to WM's seaport terminus at Port Covington.  Then in just a short distance was the B&O double track ( now CSX single track ) grade crossing at the Montgomery Ward store/whse just before Monroe Street ( MW was located at Monroe and Rt. 1 ).  In the 50's these grade crossing were protected by signal men perched in towers.  Whenever  a train was coming these guys would come out blowing whistles like traffic cops to stop traffic.  If we were lucky this happened at least once either coming or leaving Baltimore.  B&O seemed to run some pretty long slow freights which I assume were transfers from Wynans Yard to another one of the B&O yards around Baltimore or visa versa. 

We'd exit the Greyhound a couple blocks from Baltimore's then thriving downtown which was the Howard Street area. First stop was Frenche's Sporting Goods which hosted a large Lionel train layout. It was a thrill to see this layout in action.  It always had Lionel's latest stuff running on the rails with Lionels latest accessories highlighted around the layout!  French's was a Lionel dealer year round and that is where we took our trains to be fixed for many years during the 1950's and 60s.  

Howard Street played host to several department stores which all had train displays during the Christmas Season.   There was Hecht Co., Hoschild Kohn, Bragger & Gutman, and Hutzlers.   Some of these displays were more elaborate than others, but as a kid they all looked fabulous to me!   There was also Taubman's which sold trains at discount prices.   Taubman's is where we'd pick up the new Lionel catalogue which my brother and I would excitedly read at lunch..... and of course our parents were serenaded to rousing chorus of" I want that!  I want that !  Look at that!  I want that engine! I want those passenger cars!"  and so forth.  My parents always seemed to enjoy our excitement.  Of course on Christmas morning one or two of those "thats" we wanted was found on our train layout all hooked up and ready to go.  Treasured memories for sure. 

Cheers and Happy Railroading,

Patrick W  

CEO - The Free State Junction Railway 

" Where the music is sweet and the trains always run on time"

Home Office - Patsburg, Maryland 

Growing up in Naperville, near Chicago, we often "toured" all those stores such as Carson, Pirie Scott....Marshall Fields....perhaps also The Museum of Science & Industry...all being big layouts.  Naperville then was so small, the Sears was just a  TINY Catalog storefront, the rest was the delivered goods section.

  We had an ACE (Soukups Hardware) that had, IIRC an Lionel "stepped" display. Didnt have any trains running, but it was eye candy for sure!

 

"It was a shiny K Line caboose and it smoked...."

I grew up in a smaller upstate New York city (Schenectady) which was the home of the American Locomotive Company. Because of ALCO we had a number of stores with train layouts between Thanksgiving & Christmas. Three family owned multi-story department stores, a big Sears and even a Woolworth's. The stores seemed to my then young eyes to be in competition for which could build the best train layout. Adding to the bonanza, a few miles away  was and eight floor Wards regional mail order & retail operation with a big layout that was the destination of one or two family visits during the shopping season. All those wonderful places are gone now but at least I am lucky to have my memories.

Tony -- Up on "The D & H Bridge Line"

 

 

 

 

My favorite layouts were those at the Lionel showroom, and just a few blocks away, at the Gilbert Hall of Science in the great borough of Manhattan, New York City. Those two layouts, one in O gauge and the other in S gauge, were truly magnificent to this child's eyes, and are forever imprinted in my memory!

vita sine litteris mors est  (Seneca)

hqdefaultAn interesting side note. The big cities that kept their streetcar lines kept their downtown dept. stores. San Francisco for one. If the streetcars where pulled and replaced by buses companies couldn't be sure if the lines would be changed. It's easy to change a route on a bus line. Don

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I’m too young for the glory days of Christmas train displays in the major department stores, but when I was a kid in the early 90’s, Fortunoff’s in Westbury, NY had a wonderful Christmas Store. 

They always had several nice train layouts that featured Lionel starter sets from the era. Lots and lots of 4-4-2’s (New York Central Flyer!). 

I remember set, track, maintenance kits, and some other odds and ends for sale. It was something I looked forward to every year.

Always wondered what it was like to walk into FAO Schwartz in the late 40’s and see  the Lionel layouts at Christmas. Must have been great.

Ron

jim sutter posted:

When I was a young boy, my mother and father would take me to Pittsburgh to see the train displays at Kauffman's, Horne's and Gimbels. We also went to Johnstown, to the Penn Traffic store to see their displays. If we could only turn back time.

Hi Jim,

 I'm not old enough to remember any of the department store displays.  But I do remember a jeweler in downtown Ebensburg that always had a little train in his window circling the diamond rings and watches during the holidays. I also remember visiting your store many times and enjoying the trains on your layout as a kid.  I took a break from trains as a teen through highschool and then college.

I  think my last visit to your place which was probably 2008-09 or so and I got my first MTH PS2 locomotive which I still run to this day.  That rekindled my interest (oh my how the hobby had changed in those 15 years). But now as an adult I have twin 3yo nephews that love trains almost as much as I do. Thanks for keeping that toy train spirit alive! 

Growing up in the late 40's, early 50's in Washington, D.C., the Christmas shopping pilgrimage to downtown had mandatory stops at the big corner windows of several department stores.  Kann's, Hecht's, Woodward & Lothrop, Julius Garfinkel, to name a few.  Closer to home in NW D.C. was Sears...also with a corner window display and a nice Lionel layout in the Toy Department.  

It was at one of those downtown windows that I was introduced to the magic of Magne-Traction.  Standing pressed to the glass....like Ralphie...I watched this gorgeous Lionel steam freight train race around...and up and down!!!...a snowy collection of toys.  But what intrigued me the most was this tunnel that the train entered at the lowest level, only to emerge a few seconds later from a tunnel portal on a higher level!!!  'Whaaaaa????'

So I inched my way along the window until I was right next to that lower tunnel portal.  As I peered inside I could see the train enter....and then climb a spiral curve up to a higher level.  WOW!!  How cool was THAT????

Of course it was Dad...almost as excited as I at anything "trains"...that quickly surmised that that new feature, Magne-Traction, must have had something to do with the way that train climbed the spiral.  I assumed him to be correct, I suppose, since I considered Dad the answer-man for such technical wonderment at that age.

Most of our trains, however, came from smaller D.C. shops....like Superior Lock & Electric, Downtown Lock & Electric, General Electronics, et al.  You know......the ones with the creaky wood floors, narrow aisles, jam-packed shelves, marginal lighting, hardware smells mingled with cigarette/cigar/pipe smells, and all the older male customers wearing Fedoras, suits, white shirts, ties?

Back to those big store window displays, though.....   It's always bugged me that photographic documentation/archives didn't survive better for posterity.    At least, not that I'm aware of.  Sure, there are some photos in the responses above, but I would have thought those incredible window creations worthy of a bunch of B/W photos.  After all, there were whole departments dedicated to the design/fabrication of these epitomes of seasonal advertising.  Surely their pride would have resulted in a Kodak moment...or two....or three.....???  Then what??  When ALL of these merchandisers disappeared to the ages, their records did the same??  What a travesty!

But, the memories are golden, forever.

KD

RPLST8,

Thank you for your kind words about our store. I'm very glad to hear you enjoy it. Now its up to you to keep the toy train spirit alive. Be sure to spend as much time as you can with your nephews and your trains. They will never forget it nor will you. Merry Christmas.

I miss the Buhl Planterium display.  When it got moved to the Science Center it now costs a pretty penny to see.  Now if you want to see ONLY the train display at the center, one must still pay the FULL price of admission, interested in other things or not.

But since the display is on an upper floor, I guess they couldn't prevent customers from browsing other areas besides the train display.

- walt

I consider myself lucky to have experienced the golden years of electric trains in New York City. While a little boy, dad took me to see the Lionel Showroom layout.  We'd then stop at Madison Hardware or Julies on 23rd street to buy a new train item for my Christmas gift.  Also recall visiting Santa at Macy's on 34th street and the large layout that was there in Toyland. There were also train stores in NYC uptown on 48th street off 6th avenue but I do not recall their names. In Brooklyn where we lived in Bensonhurst, the Fix-All Appliance Shop on Coney Island Avenue was the go to place for repairs and the occasional after Christmas sale item.

My family was of modest means and we didn't have all that much back then but those were really great times.

Builder of the Hill Lines ( New Delta Lines). Recreating history for the model RR community.

Dennis LaGrua posted:

I consider myself lucky to have experienced the golden years of electric trains in New York City. While a little boy, dad took me to see the Lionel Showroom layout.  We'd then stop at Madison Hardware or Julies on 23rd street to buy a new train item for my Christmas gift.  Also recall visiting Santa at Macy's on 34th street and the large layout that was there in Toyland. There were also train stores in NYC uptown on 48th street off 6th avenue but I do not recall their names. In Brooklyn where we lived in Bensonhurst, the Fix-All Appliance Shop on Coney Island Avenue was the go to place for repairs and the occasional after Christmas sale item.

My family was of modest means and we didn't have all that much back then but those were really great times.

I think you mean West 45th Street off Sixth Avenue. That’s where the Red Caboose, the Roundhouse II and Model Railroad Equipment Corp. (later Train Shop Ltd.) operated hobby shops in the 1970s. (West 48th Street off Sixth is the street that’s dominated by Rockefeller Center. And that’s midtown, not uptown.)

Jim R. 

Well we have memories of department store Christmas train displays and train layouts and trains for sale inside  the store.

 We now have the internet, Walmart and Amazon.  So much for the trains at Christmas time in the stores.  Hopefully you all have some trains to set up around your Christmas tree.

Charlie

 

To young for the Penn Traffic department store. However I do remember the last year and a half of Glosser Brothers as they closed early in 1989. 

I do remember Gimbels and Horns having Christmas decoration but too young to remember if there were trains. They closed in the 1980s. 

I was a fan of Kuafmanns then later Macy's. We would take the kids down for some Christmas shopping in the big city from early 2000s until they closed in 2015. Again I don't remember trains. However the restaurant was a decent place to eat and who didn't love their bakery that still wrapped cake boxes with string. Kids said I only went to ride the escalators.

I guess I'm just too young to appreciate the joy of large department stores and train displays at Christmas time.

My generation grew up on malls and now even the one in Johnstown is almost half vacant.

However surprisingly there are far more train shops still around then there are department stores. Go figure.

Art Howes posted:

Hello Ritchie, do you remember if Jordan Marsh had trains in the window(s) during Christmastime or Filenes?

That's a good question - my mother was a secretary in downtown Boston and my aunt was a buyer at Filene's, so I should know this. My recollection is that they did have some train displays in the windows at during the holiday season, but at my age my memory is spotty. Of course, the Jordan's blueberry muffins were to die for and became world famous.

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