Thursday, November 23, 2017
News Roundup

Iconic H&R Trains is up for sale

RECOMMENDED READING


PINELLAS PARK — Alice and Don Morris are known across the globe for their extensive expertise on trains.

So it might be a bit surprising that their retirement plans don't include riding trains to explore North America. Instead, they plan to fly and sail.

They're not leaving anytime soon. They have to wait until they sell their iconic business, H&R Trains, and the real estate it sits on.

"We've had a lot of fun," Don Morris said. "We'll miss it, but it's time."

It's an unexpected development for a 38-year-old business whose innovations and creativity have brought it an international reputation as the go-to place for model train collectors who shop on the company website, hrtrains.com, and visit in person.

"If it weren't for Alice, this industry would have gone away a long time ago," Morris said of his wife.

H&R was the first U.S. retailer, for example, to carry "garden trains," larger models (about the size of a loaf of bread) that collectors set up and run in their yards, Morris said. Also known as large-scale trains, many have the smoke, sounds and appearance of real trains.

"A lot of things Alice has done here were firsts," he said. "She continues to find new ideas."

Mrs. Morris isn't the only one to contribute to the industry. Don Morris also creates products for people who want them but can't find them elsewhere. One such product was a simulated brick or stone culvert used as scenery in train setups. A customer described what he wanted, Morris said, "and by morning, he had it."

Retirement isn't likely to happen quickly. H&R has been "quietly" for sale for the past five years but the Morrises decided about a month ago to make the news more public.

The goal, Mrs. Morris said, is to find someone who has the funds and fortitude to keep the business going and who has "a passion for the trains and a passion for the customer."

"Yes, it's for sale," she said. "We're not going to go away. It's an opportunity for the right person. I'm not going to close my door. If it doesn't sell, I'm still going to be here because I have to eat."

They're willing to help by providing advice and expertise. They're also willing to sell the business separately from the real estate. They fear that having a buyer bear the burden of paying for both the business and the property at one time would make it too hard to survive. H&R itself brings in about $1 million a year, the Morrises said. The 0.85-acre property at 6901 U.S. 19 N has an assessed value of about $313,000, according to Pinellas County Property Appraiser records.

Mrs. Morris, who became interested in trains as a child, founded H&R about 38 years ago in a corner of a McCrory's five-and-dime store in what was then the Gateway Mall. She sold out so quickly, the store manager loaned her $1,000 to replenish her stock and open a train department in the store. A year or so later, she opened her own store elsewhere in the mall.

She and her husband met because of the store. He was a train enthusiast.

"We struck up a friendship and that led to other things," he said.

They bought the Pinellas Park location in 1984 for $214,000.

The store is now the largest model train store in Florida and the second largest in the United States, they said. They ship worldwide and have well-known customers who include Burt Reynolds, former Buccaneer Warren Sapp, members of Mannheim Steamroller and Sally Jesse Raphael. The late Gary Coleman was also a client. It's not unusual to see a cab or limousine waiting outside while a collector from elsewhere shops.

The business is not simply a store.

It's also a model train complex with an outdoor garden railroad, a research library and learning center with DVDs and video tapes on both prototype and model railroad subjects as well as books and magazines dating from 1939. The library has a computer design station so customers can design their own models.

Not only do the Morrises create parts and scenery, they also install and service the installations. And they've been e-tailing for many years. They have activities for children and two train shows a year that draw collectors from around the globe.

But, with both in their 70s, they say it's time to retire and spend time together. It's an idea they began to take seriously about five years ago.

"I had a bad day," Mrs. Morris said.

Don Morris said his wife told him, "I want to go fishing. (I said) 'Alice, you don't fish, what's wrong?' "

Mrs. Morris laid out her idea: Get in Putsy, their single-engine Mooney plane, fly east, turn left at the Atlantic and go north. Land whenever something looks interesting. When they reach Newfoundland, turn left again and do the same thing. Then, turn left at Alaska and fly down the West Coast. Then left again and come back.

After that, Mrs. Morris said, she wants to go sailing.

Anne Lindberg can be reached at [email protected] tampabay.com or (727) 893-8450.

 
Comments
President Trump presents his report card, passes with flying colors

President Trump presents his report card, passes with flying colors

PALM BEACH — President Donald Trump has a Thanksgiving Day message for the nation: Look at all I’ve done. Trump is telling followers in an early-morning holiday tweet that, "your Country is starting to do really well." He says: Jobs are "coming back,...
Updated: 9 minutes ago

Lutz pedestrian dies in accident on U.S. 41

LUTZ — A man is dead after deputies said he walked into the path of a car on U.S. Route 41 Wednesday night.Charles Miller, 69 of Lutz, was walking east across the highway at 7:34 p.m., according to Florida Highway Patrol.Daniel Johnson, 35 and also o...
Updated: 28 minutes ago

Police: Family hit on Dale Mabry Highway in stable condition

TAMPA — The mother and two small children who were hit by a car while trying to cross Dale Mabry Highway on Wednesday were all in stable condition by Thanksgiving morning, said Tampa police. Investigators said the family is not originally from the Ta...
Updated: 1 hour ago
Tarpon Springs seeking to honor sponger George Billiris

Tarpon Springs seeking to honor sponger George Billiris

TARPON SPRINGS — The city is considering a way to honor the legacy of the late longtime sponge merchant George Billiris at a city building. "We know how he promoted Tarpon Springs," Commissioner David Banther said at a recent City Commission meeting....
Published: 11/23/17
New Weeki Wachee basketball coach transitions from years on college sidelines

New Weeki Wachee basketball coach transitions from years on college sidelines

WEEKI WACHEE — Mark Lee was looking for an accomplished coach to take over Weeki Wachee High’s boys basketball team. Not only did he find what he was searching for, but he may have gone above and beyond with the hiring of Rick Scruggs.The 30-year vet...
Published: 11/23/17
Florida 10-year-old is one of 21 kids suing federal government over climate change

Florida 10-year-old is one of 21 kids suing federal government over climate change

At age 10, Levi Draheim hates math and loves reading Harry Potter books. He plays the violin but dislikes practicing. What he really enjoys is paddling a kayak or going swimming. It helps that he lives just a five-minute walk from the beach in the to...
Updated: 28 minutes ago
Presenting the 2017 Sports Turkey of the Year

Presenting the 2017 Sports Turkey of the Year

Happy Turkey Day!Today is a day of tradition.The Macy’s parade. Turkey and stuffing. The Lions and Cowboys.And our annual "Turkey of the Year.’’It’s a tradition started by my former colleague at the Minneapolis Star Tribune, the brilliant columnist P...
Updated: 1 hour ago
Nikita Kucherov really does admire Patrick Kane

Nikita Kucherov really does admire Patrick Kane

TAMPA — Lightning wing Nikita Kucherov has watched plenty of film on Blackhawks star Patrick Kane.Kucherov marveled how the 2015-16 league MVP uses deception to "hide" from defenders. He noticed how patient Kane was with the puck, how well he passed ...
Updated: 11 hours ago
Lightning beats Blackhawks in OT

Lightning beats Blackhawks in OT

TAMPA — The Lightning entered Wednesday’s game against the Blackhawks determined to avoid its first losing streak of the season. And it did in dramatic fashion, with Brayden Point’s power-play goal in overtime lifting it to a 3-2 victory. "A big boun...
Updated: 11 hours ago
SOCom asking rifle makers for single weapon to serve many sniper roles

SOCom asking rifle makers for single weapon to serve many sniper roles

When Ryan Cleckner was an Army Ranger sniper in Afghanistan, he had as many as nine rifles he would use in different situations. But whenever a mission would evolve quickly, he would have to choose which ones to lug onto a helicopter. Even narrowing ...
Updated: 12 hours ago