Lionel recently opened its first retail store in North Carolina
The store is part of Lionel LLC’s 90,000-square-feet of office and warehouse space on Performance Drive.
Though already open to the public, the grand opening for the 1,100-square-foot store will be Oct. 20, just weeks before the company’s third annual warehouse sale Nov. 8-9.
Lionel Racing is the die-cast collectibles portion of the 114-year-old toy train manufacturing company. It was formed in late 2010 and moved to Concord, specifically to capitalize on the area’s ties to racing history.
Lionel LLC announced in April it was moving its New York-based headquarters to Concord, though it had slowly been making the transition. Operations have grown from roughly 15 employees in 2010 to more than 100.
The headquarters also operates the Lionel Customer Service and Repair Center and has shared warehouse space in downtown Concord.
“We did sort of move in rather quietly and we’ve made more noise in the last year but, yeah, people are really surprised that Lionel is right here in their back yard,” said Howard Hitchcock, president of Lionel.
Michelle Fannin, Lionel’s senior director of marketing, said the store is a product of customer demand.
“Our customer service center drew in a lot of foot traffic, people inquiring about a retail store,” she said.
One of the company’s goals is to lure folks in to play with the trains.
“When you get a couple of trains in a room and you realize how fast they go and how much fun they are, and what’s noisy about them is beyond the track. When kids play with them, they start screaming and hollering, it’s like a party,” Fannin said.
While the die-cast racing collectible side of the business is fairly set, this year the train side will introduce new names and brands, such as Batman, Frosty the Snowman, Crayola and John Deere.
“As we continue to make our home in Concord, we now have a place we can engage consumers,” Hitchcock said.
Hitchcock said Lionel expects to start educational programs and other outreach efforts through its alliance with the Carnegie Science Center in Pittsburgh, Pa. One possibility is creating a Science Technology Engineering and Mathematics program, in which students could experiment with technology and develop their own trains.
Concord City Council member David Phillips has at least 500 Lionel trains. His older brother, Les, still has the first Lionel train set he got when he was 6. A member of several national train clubs, Phillips considers Lionel the granddaddy of them all.
“This is a world headquarters now,” Phillips said. “They ship products all over the world and that just brings additional attention to the area. I’m tickled to death to see this happening….”
Phillips, 64, started to amass his collection in 1995 in a nearly 300-square-foot bonus room. He has attended the warehouse sale and said they always have great deals.
“There are huge stacks of train sets, individual items, tracks and cars…,” he said.
Concord Mayor Scott Padgett said he got a Lionel train for Christmas when he was 8. The new addition adds to the area’s offerings that blend retail with tourism.
“Who would have ever thought we would have this?” he said. “It’s just one more thing that adds to the great variety we have here.”