Don and Alice Morris, owners of H&R Trains, are selling the store after 38 years in business.
Even before H&R Trains opens at 10 a.m., the phone is ringing.
Owner Alice Morris picks up. “No, we’re still here,” she said to the caller. “We’ll have to be here until I find a buyer or until, I don’t know, I can’t walk anymore, I guess.”
Concerned calls like this have come in daily since around Christmas, when she and her husband Don Morris went public with the news that they want to sell their iconic shop.
H&R Trains has called Pinellas Park home for the past 38 years. Not only is it the largest model train shop in the state, it’s also the second largest in the country, and attracts customers from around the globe.
The funny part, Alice says, is that the shop being on the market isn’t news. She and her husband have been quietly trying to sell it for the past five years. But that was through a real estate professional who “didn’t do anything for us,” she said. Now that their contract is up, the couple has decided to handle the sale themselves.
The Morrises own both the shop and the parcel of land it’s on at 6901 U.S. 19 N. They’re willing to sell them in any configuration that will attract buyers, either alone or separately. A savvy businessman might even want to turn the location into a hobby haven, with several shops and an outdoor café, which Alice once dreamed of doing herself.
“But we knew insisting on selling (the property and business) together might make it difficult for someone just starting in business to make the purchase,” Don said.
Alice has “put her heart and soul” into the business for nearly four decades, Don said.
“You thought I’d never stop,” Alice added.
But something changed for her about five years ago. The couple was driving home when Don noticed that Alice was strangely quiet. So he asked if she was feeling OK.
Her reply was simple. “I want to go fishing.”
“Since she doesn’t fish, I knew something was wrong,” he said.
Really, now that she and her husband are in their mid-70s, she just knew they needed a break. It wasn’t an easy choice for the couple to finally retire, but it was a necessary one.
Don flew corporate airplanes for 45 years, and for the past 17 years, the couple has owned a private plane that Alice affectionately dubbed Putsy.
The couple has flown Putsy all over the country – Kansas City, Pittsburgh, Maine – and even down to the Bahamas and Dominican Republic. Owning H&R Trains has allowed the pair to travel all over the world, but Alice is ready to travel for the sake of traveling.
An avid model train enthusiast since getting hooked on a classroom train in the fourth grade, in 1976 Alice opened H&R Trains with her ex-husband in a tiny corner of McCrory’s Five and Dime store in St. Petersburg’s Gateway Mall. They collected model trains and were selling extra items from their collection.
Alice sold all of her inventory that first day and had to borrow the store manager’s credit card to buy more stock. She stayed in McCrory’s for six months before finding her own space for the shop. And in 1991, now married to Don, whom she met at her store, they moved to their U.S. 19 location.
Alice, Don, and the shop have become major players in the global model train industry. She brought the first large-scale garden railroad to the United States, and designed the first Christmas train. Don designs bridges and other items for model train set-ups, and has made award-winning how-to videos on creating vibrant scenery.
But, he said, it’s time to move on, even though the couple doesn’t even have room in their one-bedroom condo to set up their own trains.