B-TOWN BIZ: Electric Train Shop Choo-Choo-Chooses Burien Over West Seattle
by Jack Mayne
The Electric Train Shop, where owner Scott Law says “all my customers are under five or over fifty,” will soon open at 625 SW 152nd Street in downtown Burien because he was priced out of the West Seattle Junction neighborhood.
Law says the store should be up and ready for visitors by mid-July. He said he had hoped to be ready by the 4th of July, but there was just too much to move and set up.
For the past 11 years the Electric Train Shop and the liquor store shared a space with the liquor store at the back of the property and the train store on California Avenue. Now the liquor store is moving and the property owner intends to remodel the space into two equivalent size stores, which would be much larger and unaffordable at $6,000 a month.
“They kind of priced me out with the area,” he says.
When he moved from his first store in Pioneer Square to the Junction, there were many vacant spaces. But West Seattle has become “one of the most vibrant areas in Seattle” which he predicts will happen to downtown Burien in the next few years when the economy revives and now empty condos and other spaces are filled.
His shop in West Seattle features rack after rack of various size models, from modern trains, to pre-Amtrak Steamliners and transcontinental passenger and freight trains with many names now gone, such as Southern Pacific, the Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe, Western Pacific and others.
“I’ve seen a lot of kids grow up over the years. It’s a hangout and not a real money making business thing for me, but I enjoy it and I get to be in contact with a lot of people during the day.
“I have little kids who are just nuts about trains and their parents don’t know where it came from, but there is the Thomas the Tank Engine influence,” he says.
“Then the customers I have than are regulars are in their 40s and 50s and up and they have time for a hobby now and the they can do the things they always wanted to do they couldn’t do when raising a family.”
“It can be an expensive hobby,” he says. “Some of the modern ones have digital controls and sound systems and all sorts of computer technology.”
There are train collectors who collect the older models, such as Lionel trains from the 1920s “and it is not uncommon for a train to bring several thousands of dollars.”
But not all of the models are expensive, Law says. In the 1950s, Lionel made millions of models and they are still readily available inexpensively and the company still today churns out models, some relatively inexpensive.
Added to those are people like him who loved model trains as kids and still do, so even in the days of computer games and high-tech amusements and hobbies, he says model trains are still enjoyed by many more than people might think – and some famous people, too.
“Frank Sinatra had a big train room built in his back yard for his trains, (musician) Neil Young was the owner of Lionel Trains for a period, rocker Rod Stewart is a very, very skilled model builder,” Law says. “It encompasses everything, unlike cars and planes and things.
“Trains are everything from the ground to the sky. There are millions of items made for trains. It is a way to create a world that you can control and be in charge of the way you want it. It is the closest thing to a time machine – until they find a way to make a time machine it is the only way you can travel back into 1940 and recreate that world.”
Trains “was something I did as a kid and just continued,” says Law, “I worked for companies that made model trains, and I worked for companies that sold them. But I found out that I enjoyed mostly just sitting across the counter talking to people about model trains. That was the most fun part of it. I was more fun than sitting in the corner making them all day long.”
He said he spent 20 years working for companies making craftsman model train kits, including a then-West Seattle company known as Northwest Short Line, which was then where the YMCA is now. The company has now moved to Hamilton, Mont., under new ownership.
Law says his business “has been great and a fun thing for me.”
An interesting piece of history was revealed during some renovations at Law’s new storefront recently, when evidence of the old ‘Hi-Line Pharmacy’ sign was revealed above the awning: