South Side Trains
3979 S. Howell Ave, Milwaukee
Neighborhood: Milwaukee’s Garden District
Owner: Tom Palmer
Service: Model trains
What’s the history of the business?
Palmer: “It started in 1955 as a place called Bay View Hobbies, which was down on Potter Avenue and (South Kinnickinnic Avenue). After that, they moved around here and there. A fellow at Casanova’s Hobbies ended up buying Bay View Hobbies and called it ‘Jerry’s Bay View Hobbies.’ Then I bought it from Jerry in 2007 and about five years after that, we found this place and the price was right so we moved here. I changed the name to South Side Trains when I bought it.”
What do you sell here?
“Model trains. The short answer is: We sell fun.”
Who are your customers?
“They are from all over the world. I would say about 50 percent are local customers or people who moved away and I’ll send them stuff. The other 50 percent is internet-based. We also have a very large consignment business.”
What do you see in terms of the trends in model railroading?
“I would say in the last five years, there has been a tremendous growth in interest, and especially with the younger generation. I attribute that to YouTube and the availability of everyone having a camera in their pocket. Kids want to be able to model things they have seen. And that’s really been refreshing because typically, this has been a 60-and-over type hobby. We’ve been fortunate with the younger business coming in.”