BERWYN – Tom Svetska and his brother Larry were afflicted with the model train and slot car illness since they were young. As they grew into adulthood, it only got worse.
Berwyn’s Toys & Trains, 7025 Ogden Ave., is what can happen if left untreated.
The store is a dream come true for model railroad enthusiasts and hobbyists, young and old alike. It caters to those who love one the great American hobby of model making.
In business since 1992, the store first opened in the strip mall at 2872 Harlem Ave. south of 26th Street. The owner of the strip mall kept asking him what he thought about opening a store in the mall. Tom was working at Berwyn Pet Supply in the mall at the time.
“I told him to make me an offer,” Svetska said.
The offer was made: six months rent for free followed by 18 months with the rent set at $500 for two store fronts.
“I was in my third year at Loyola, and I kind of jumped out of school and started the business,” Svetska said. “Everything took off, and it turned out alright.”
He does, however regret not finishing school.
Tom Svetska, 42, was studying marketing. Larry Svetska, 45, graduated with a degree in accounting, and their father, Frank, taught marketing at Loyola.
A lifelong hobby of trains, slot cars and plastic model kits became a means of making living for the Svetska brothers.
“Back when we were growing up, there were three or four stores in the area,” Tom said. “It was [somewhere] we could walk to, take something home and work on things.”
Today, train and hobby enthusiasts, often accompanied by parents and grandparents, will come in.
“It’s usually the parents or grandparents that introduce kids to trains or even model building,” Tom said.
“Some [parents] encourage their kids to get interested in something other than a computer or a phone. They’re shocked that a place like this still exists. People come in and don’t realize some of this stuff is still made.”
Tom and Larry still have sets at home. Larry has two sons, Charley and Luke, and the three work on the set together.
Tom’s son, Randy, is more interested in slot cars and model cars, Tom said. His daughters, Tia and Abigail, both had an interest in Playmobile and Breyer Horses when they were younger, he said. Both of the girls have worked in the store behind the register.
“They’ve been good cashiers over the years,” he said.
What’s hot in the model railroad world these days? Svetska said things are getting pretty high-tech these days.
“They’s added a lot more electronics, digital sounds, remote controls,” he said. “They have a controller now that can be operated with an iPhone. You can download sounds.”
Lego’s still are a big seller as well.
“They revived that pretty well,” Svetska said. “They have all these themes: ‘Star Wars,’ ‘Harry Potter.’ That might be one of the hottest toy lines at the moment for kids. If your talking about 3-year-old’s, we’re talking about Thomas the Train.”
Still, the kid in them brings many adults into the store.
“Adults use their kids as an excuse to buy a train set; we see that every day,” he said. “We may have more adults buying trains than kids, reliving their childhood.”