I saw something sad in the papers this week: Macy’s is closing its downtown St. Louis store, the former flagship Famous-Barr (or Famous and Barr, if you’re old enough) store.
And that means this past Christmas was the last Christmas for the American Flyer storefront Christmas layout.
That store, of course, hasn’t sold American Flyer trains since the 1960s. Some years, even fairly recently, it’s been possible to walk into that store and buy a Lionel starter set. It’s not uncommon at all to find toy trains in their original boxes in St. Louis with a Famous-Barr price tag still affixed.
Given the number of trains that store sold over the years, it seemed appropriate when a group of local hobbyists convinced Famous-Barr to let them set up a train layout in the downtown store in the mid 1980s, and after that store became a Macy’s, the new owners continued the tradition. Originally, train layouts in large department stores were designed to help retailers sell trains to the parents of little boys, but as the decades wore on, boys became more interested in other toys, such as slot cars and video games, and trains retreated to the realm of specialty shops, making the large department store display layouts of yesteryear obsolete.
But there’s just something about going downtown in between Thanksgiving and New Year’s and seeing a train layout in a department store window that seems so American. I took my sons a couple of times, and it was fun. We would drive to Shrewsbury, then buy tickets and ride the Metrolink downtown to Union Station, then walk a block or two over to Macy’s–which resided in the Railway Exchange Building–to see the train. Yes, we rode a real train to a real train station to see the toy trains.
We didn’t make it there this past year. Now I wish we had.