Lionel: Laying Down Tracks at Concord Mills
Dec 03, 2018 11:44AM
● By Jason Huddle
Lionel: Laying Down Tracks at Concord Mills
In October 2014, Lionel – the iconic 118-year-old model train manufacturer – moved its headquarters from New York to Performance Drive in Concord.
Within its headquarters and warehouse building, it also opened the first Lionel retail store in North Carolina.
Four years later and the company has opened a flagship location in Concord Mills, closing the original retail space. Howard Hitchcock is president of Lionel. “While the prior retail store that was located in our office building was very successful, we felt strongly that if we had a traditional retail location that gave us room to let folks try out trains for themselves, it would lift not just our sales revenue, but the Lionel brand in general,” he says.
Some of the most frequently received feedback from visitors to the original store was its size. Lionel took that to heart and quadrupled its square footage to more than 5,000. As the first of its kind for Lionel, the hope is that this store will serve as a catalyst for further retail expansion into other U.S. markets.
The space also affords Lionel the opportunity to expand its offerings. Hitchcock plans to host educational workshops for train hobbyists, race car driver signings and special events in conjunction with Simon Properties.
“One of our key focuses is to engage children in the train hobby and grow them up to be model train enthusiasts,” he explains. “What better way to do that than in a fun, interactive location that’s in their own backyard?”
In that vein, he adds, “We now have room for large train layouts, kid-size train tables and a large NASCAR die-cast section. It’s big and bright, and the trains running in the front windows make you want to come inside and play.
“We have four fully interactive train displays that give customers of all ages the chance to run our trains for themselves. The giant, multi-track display toward the back of our store was actually custom built specifically for this space by members of the Lionel team. The display in the center aisle was formerly housed in the FAO Schwarz toy store in Manhattan and, in 2011, had a cameo in The Smurfs movie.”
If you missed National Lionel Train Day on December 1, there’s still much to experience in the midst of the Christmas holiday shopping season. “The Polar Express set is a perennial favorite and a must-have train for underneath the tree,” Hitchcock says.
“This year, we’ve added several sets to our lineup that we’re excited about, like our Hot Wheels LionChief set with Bluetooth capability and two Disney sets that feature Mickey Mouse and friends.”
Other favorites? The website, Top Ten Reviews, actually gave 11 testers about 20 hours to try out 10 model and toy trains, basing their reviews on functionality, design, durability and fun.
At just under $300, the Lionel Pennsylvania Flyer was named Best Overall. “This train is a sight to
behold. It’s an O gauge train so it was one of the larger trains we tested, but it’s still breathtakingly detailed,” Top Ten Reviews says. “The set comes with five train cars in total, including a boxcar with a working door and a locomotive with a working headlamp. Right away we were thrilled because this train actually has a working smoke stack and comes with a small bottle of liquid smoke.”
The Flyer’s 12-piece track assembles into a 60-inch by 40-inch oval. The train runs by a wireless remote that can activate the engine’s bell, whistle and announcements, and the tester clocked the train speed at more than two feet per second. There is no on-off switch on the train or volume control, and the Bluetooth capability raises the price about $50 and can be challenging; the model is also available without Bluetooth.
“This train has everything you could ever want – it’s fast, durable, easy to assemble and a ton of fun,” the website notes. “You don’t need to have a lot of patience with this model because you can assemble it in a few minutes and start having fun right away. Its design, smoke stack, speed and user-friendly features make it the best train out there.”
At about $100, the Mickey Mouse Train Set was named Best for Young Children. “You get a large 73.2-inch by 50-inch oval track in 31 pieces, though you can use fewer pieces and create track layouts in varying shapes. The train is a massive O scale model and requires AAA batteries for the remote and C batteries for the engine. Once you’ve installed the batteries you can start playing right away,” Top Ten Reviews says.
The testers ran the four train cars up to 1.75 feet per second. The headlamp works, and the train makes chugging sounds as it circles the track. You can also activate bells, whistles and audio with the remote.”
So, whether you’re a race fan and want to pick up the latest NASCAR Authentics die-cast produced in 1:64 scale or you’re a serious, seasoned train hobbyist, check out the new Lionel store. It’s located in Neighborhood 6, across from Concord Mills’ Dining Pavilion. All aboard!
Article By: Kim Cassell
Photos Courtesy: Michael A. Anderson Photography