Closing its landmark Culver City location on May 12, Allied Model Trains
as it stands today is the brainchild of its owner for the past three decades, Allen Drucker
, who turned a boyhood hobby into his
"This business has been my entire life for the past 32 years," said Drucker
, seated in his
store's second-floor office on a recent afternoon.
Gray-haired, lean and dressed in a crisp blue button-down shirt under navy suspenders, Drucker
spoke in measured tones occasionally broken by excited exclamations.
"I remember walking away from this guy and … I couldn't believe what I heard," Drucker
said."That … he
was making a living with a train store."
own job, Drucker
says, "I really didn't like the corporate world.I was at a real low point."
A couple of weeks later, Drucker
paid a lunchtime visit to a local store he
had heard about called Allied Model Trains
, on Pico Boulevard a few blocks west of Westwood Boulevard.
Charmed by the tiny, dingy shop cluttered with model railroads, Drucker
asked the kid reading a paperback behind the counter if the owner might be interested in selling the place.
"Funny you should ask … ," the kid replied.Drucker
asked to borrow the phone.On the spot, he
called in sick to the electronics store and made an appointment to see the broker representing Allied Model Trains
that very afternoon.
found out that the $20,000 required up front to buy the business was more than he
could afford, Drucker
wrestled with what to do until, finally, he
made a decision.
Over the next several months, Drucker
Ladera Heights duplex, his
Porsche and even his
model train collection to scrape together the money to buy the Allied Model Trains
business and inventory.
Luckily, the Continental Airlines pilot who then owned the store (first opened by Art Truman in 1946), "had run the place into the ground," Drucker
first four years in business, Drucker
worked in the store seven days a week, sometimes staying open as late as 9 p.m. and barely broke even.Still, he
constantly pushed to make his
store better, piece by piece.
"I gave the business every single thing it needed," he
said."If the business needed a new sign, it got a new sign … and if there was something left over, then I had something."
By the early ‘80s, finally turning a steady profit, "I was really in the right place at the right time," he
"The whole nostalgia thing was kicking into high gear at the same time, and up came this term, ‘yuppie.'" Suddenly, it seemed every young professional in town with money to burn needed trains to complete their holiday displays. Drucker's
revenues multiplied, but still, he
was not satisfied.He
envisioned something bigger, something better.
Spotting a for-sale sign one day in front of a Sepulveda Boulevard property that housed defunct motorcycle dealership and a vacant lot, Drucker thought it was the perfect spot to build the store of his
dreams.He bought the property and in 1989, thanks in part to the help of a train collector friend who was also a contractor, Drucker opened Allied Model Trains in its present location, debuting as a single-story replica of Union Station and the world's only building specifically designed to house a model train store.
Yet, as always, there was room for improvement.
With a nationwide recession hitting in 1990 and increased overhead from his
previous store, Drucker
reverted to his
around-the-clock habits to keep afloat in his
new, expanded location.He
traveled often to Europe to personally import hard-to-find models and stocked all the latest trains from the major designers.He
store pristine, everything neatly labeled, from the racks of railroad magazines to the cases holding model kits from the ‘50s, still in their original boxes.
At times his
devotion has exacted a price.
"To try and take a business that is as unique as model trains and to bring it to the level where I had it … you can't spend money on tons of employees," said Drucker
, who is divorced and has no children."That took its toll on me."
But hard work brought rewards too, and eventually Drucker's
business flourished again.
In 1992, he
purchased another building on Sepulveda Boulevard and used it as a warehouse while adding the second story he
had always wanted to his
store, where his
office is now.
business never commands the instant respect enjoyed by some other lines of work.
"Whenever I tell people I sell trains … it's always, ‘Oh, ha ha,'" he
said, mimicking a condescending laugh, his
voice taking one of its surprising upwards journeys."I got that all my life with the trains."
In the early ‘90s, when he
wanted to carry the much sought-after Christmas villages made by Department 56
, an exclusive designer of high-end collectibles, a company saleswoman informed him that they only sold their products in swank gift shops and department stores - not hobby shops.He
lobbied for the items anyway, insisting his
store was different, until the company sent a sales associate to check it out and, impressed, agreed to make Drucker
an authorized dealer of its wares.
With customers clamoring for limited-edition ceramic houses and figurines to complete their Christmas villages as they were released year-round, Department 56
helped turn Allied Model Trains
into a booming business for all seasons, whereas before it had tended to do better around the holidays.
Then came what Drucker
calls "the beginning of the end."
In 1993, Department 56
went from private to public ownership.Under increased pressure to drive up sales figures, over the next several years it began churning out more and more village accessories until "collectors threw their hands up," Drucker
said, unable to keep pace.
"It was meteoric," Drucker
said."We were doing tremendous business with that line, and then it came down so fast.They really killed the goose that laid the golden egg."
Recently, there have been other hits to his
With the popularity of the Internet, Drucker
has found more and more customers coming into his
store to test new models, then leaving without buying anything.
"They'd go home and they'd get on their computer and they'd buy that big locomotive from some guy working out of a barn in the middle of Kansas who's willing to sell it at a big discount," Drucker
said."I can't compete with that."
Also at work is another phenomenon beyond his
control: the waning demand for model trains.
"People collect things that they wanted when they were kids," Drucker
said."The golden era for model trains was in the 1920s and the 1930s … so the old trains … now tend to be collected by people that are in their 80s."
And as for kids today, he
said, "It seems like everything has to crash and bang and be about ‘Star Wars' or video games.Trains are just mundane."
Model train sales, Drucker
estimated, will only be viable for another 10, maybe 15 years.
"It really is a dying business," he
A few years ago, Drucker
decided to lease the building he
was using as a warehouse to an outside tenant.
found out what the market rent was, he
"I said to myself, ‘Why am I selling trains?'" he
hatched a plan to move Allied Model
Trains a third time, out of the beloved store he
built and into a smaller property, and to find a tenant to take over his
But the more he
thought about it, the more Drucker
realized such a move would be his
first step backwards in his
"This place was absolutely unique," Drucker
said."I thought, you know … after doing this, doing anything less or different wouldn't have been as much fun." If he was ready to leave the store, it was time to leave the business.Drucker
had always imagined that when he
was finished with Allied Model trains
would simply sell the business and stay on as landlord, allowing the new business owner to take over his
Locating a model train business that could afford the $30,000 in rent per month that his
building is now worth, however, was all but impossible.So when Drucker
business to Fred Hill and Brian Brooks from Pasadena competitor The Original Whistle Stop, along with former Allied employee Nick Barone, he
did it knowing they would have to relocate to a new space.
The new Allied Model Trains
store, opening in July at another Sepulveda Boulevard location