SOMERVILLE, NJ – The Big Little Railroad Shop, an iconic retail store for 27 years and a fixture on Main Street most of those years has run out of steam.
The hobby shop for serious model railroaders, which first opened in 1991, is selling out its inventory at reduced prices, and will close its doors at 63 W. Main St. for the final time on Sunday, Feb. 25.
Owner Jen Lush and her husband Jeffrey had opened the store in 1991 and moved three times, including a few years in Hillsborough before returning to Somerville.
It wasn’t supposed to end this way, according to the longtime owner, who continued to operate the business after her husband Jeffrey died several years ago.
“I had been working with someone for at least a year-and-a-half who was going to purchase the store,” she explained. “I’d work two days, he’d work three and vice versa, and all of the sudden on Memorial Day, he just walked out of here,” she continued. “He never told me he wasn’t going to buy the store; I heard that through other people that were conduits to me.
“Once that happened, my head told me ‘we’re going to get out of here;’ I’m 76, old enough to retire,” she said.
The store shelves are beginning to look empty as word spreads about the store closing.
“I have to get rid of all these display cases, racks and things like that,” she said. “So far, it’s been word of mouth. A lot of customers have come in and said they want this or that.”
Lush has also been in touch with an auctioneer who will help clear out what doesn’t sell by the time the store closes.
Lush has few regrets about closing, but says she will miss the day-to-day interaction with those who come in to the store.
“I’m going to miss the people here something fierce; I have the world’s greatest customers,” she said. “I will miss them terribly but that’s the way life goes.
Though she says she will retire, Lush intends to continue doing “a lot” of volunteer work – she has been a long time supporter of the 4H Model Railroad Club – and, she wants to get a part-time job – “With a paycheck,” she emphasized.
“I want to work retail, that’s the part I love about this store, talking to the people, finding out all about them, seeing what they’re doing, suggesting what will work for them. I will miss that,” she said.
“But I definitely want to get out of here,” she added.
Business had been good, but there has been a gradual decline in the number of people walking through the door.
Part of that she blames on the Internet, where model railroaders can purchase whatever they need for their layouts.
But a bigger problem is that kids are no longer interested in model railroading, according to Lush.
“What took a toll on the business is video games; kids are not interested in doing hands on things anymore. with trains you have to build things, use artistic talent, learn carpentry, electricity; the kids aren’t interested in things like that today unless grand dad did it and brought them along into the hobby, then there’s a shot they may stay in the hobby.”
The store will be open for its final week beginning Wednesday, Feb. 21, 11 a.m-6:30 p.m.; Thursday and Friday, Feb. 22-23, 11 a.m.-7 p.m.; Saturday, Feb. 24, 11 a.m.-5 p.m. and Sunday, Feb. 25, noon-4 p.m.
Further information is available online at www.Biglittle.com or by calling (908) 685-8892.