Model train traditions live on at Pinellas Park business

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When John Genovese was 2 years old, his father gave him a Lionel model train set. Seventy years later, the train still works and Genovese's passion for model trains still runs strong.

"Seeing the wheels go around, the horn, the whistle; it just does something," he said.

Similar stories and passion are shared by his fellow employees at HR Trains & Toys. The Pinellas Park business has been open for more than 40 years.

Store manager Sharisse Hoffman grew up in the store. She remembers seeing the trains rotating in a display case.

"We all love trains here," she said. "Working here, we either grew fond of them by working here, or we were trained enthusiasts before coming in here."

HR stands for happy railroading or happy railroaders. In other words, it's a fun job for employees like Genovese.

He retired from chiropractor work in 2011 and moved from West Virginia to Florida. He discovered the store when he needed parts for an old train set. He's now been working at the store for nearly six years.

His favorite moments are similar in nature to his first visit to the store.

"The biggest thing is when the little children and the big children have a train that they've had for years, and it doesn't run," he said. "We'll take it apart, clean it, diagnose it, fix it, put it back on the track so it runs. Their eyes just light up."

Families with train traditions are the core customers for the store, but they welcome the first-timers. Hoffman knows all the talk of "Z-scale, N-gauge, HO and G-gauge" can be intimidating.

"We ask them what's the purpose," Hoffman said.

For the record, all those letters correspond to the size of the track and therefore the size of the train. Families and first-timers are keeping HR Trains & Toys in business. Hoffman says Florida has more model train stores than most states.

In the short term, HR Trains & Toys will be moving locations, to what Hoffman calls "the heart of Pinellas County," an area near 49th St. N and Park Blvd.

In the long term, Hoffman hopes the business will be serving the area for another 40 years.