After 63 years, the Hillcrest store will shut its doors on Aug. 25 due to decreased business
By Monica Garske | SDUN Reporter
The Whistle Stop Train Shop located at 3834 Fourth Ave. has been a fixture in the Hillcrest neighborhood for decades, but on Aug. 25, the model train shop’s long journey will come to an end.
Whistle Stop owner Scott Rhodes said the shop is closing after 63 years in business due to a combination of factors.
“There’s simply not enough business to keep going,” he said. “It’s a combination of a lousy economy and declining customer base. There are very few new people getting into the [model railroading] hobby these days. Older enthusiasts are not buying anything anymore because they either don’t have the money or because they don’t really need anything else. There’s also a lot of competition from internet sales.”
For Rhodes, shutting down the Whistle Stop is truly the end of an era.
He has been working at the model train shop for the past 33 years – since July 26, 1979, to be exact – a time when model railroading was a more common hobby and digital distractions were not prevalent.
“There aren’t that many younger folks coming in here these days, and that’s really part of the problem. Today’s kids are too busy with their computers, video games and cell phones, [and model railroading] can’t compete with that,” Rhodes said.
The Whistle Stop first came to Hillcrest in 1949, when the shop’s original owner, William “Bill” Kingston, moved the business from downtown San Diego to Uptown, on Sixth Avenue.
In mid-1975, Rhodes said Kingston moved again, setting up shop at the current Fourth Avenue location. Four years later, Rhodes began his longtime career at the store.
“When Bill Kingston passed away in 1995, I inherited the business. He had never married and his brother and nephew were not interested in starting new careers, so I took over. I’ve been running it ever since and thought I would be here until I retired,” Rhodes said.
“Four or five years ago, when the economy started going south, the business began a steady slide down. I kept thinking things would turn around, but they just kept getting worse. Unfortunately, we’ve reached a point where we just can’t keep going on.”
With the store’s impending closure, Rhodes said his main focus is to liquidate all inventory and get the remaining merchandise into the hands of avid model railroaders.
Currently, all merchandise is 15 to 50 percent off. Rhodes said there are plenty of railroading books, magazines and DVDs left in stock, as well as some model freight cars and scale-size accessories.
For the past several decades, the train shop has specialized in what those in the model railroading hobby call “HO scale” and “N scale” trains, Rhodes said, adding that his shop has also been a reliable place for customers to stock up on very specific detailing parts and scratch-building supplies, such as plastic strips, lumber and brass.
Rhodes said the Whistle Stop is known for its extensive collection of railroading literature too, since Kingston was a huge fan of books about trains.
With the closure of the Whistle Stop, Rhodes leaves behind a very small group of businesses dedicated to his beloved hobby.
He said his store is one of three model railroad shops left in San Diego. The others are Frank the Trainman in North Park and Reed’s Hobby in La Mesa.
“[Model railroading] is certainly a declining hobby, unfortunately,” Rhodes said, however, he’s not bidding a personal farewell to the hobby altogether.
Rhodes is a lifetime member of the San Diego Model Railroad Museum in Balboa Park and an active member of the La Mesa Railroad Club, so he said he will still be active in railroading.
“I’ve done work on model railroads at the museum [in Balboa Park]. I used to go down there a few times a year on Sundays and run trains. I’ll probably do more of that now,” he said.