Patsy Pridgen

Patsy Pridgen Patsy Pridgen

Hurrying through Golden East Crossing mall from JCPenney to Belk before Christmas, I’d caught a glimpse: a store full of toy train sets circling on lines and lines of little tracks.

What’s that all about, I briefly wondered while rushing to check off the next item on my Christmas to-do list.

My 5-year-old Charlotte grandson loves trains, and while pondering how to entertain him during his extended holiday visit, I remembered my glimpse of the store full of miniature locomotives at the mall. I decided to find out exactly what was going on in the old Dollar Store location.

The Junction, as the space is now called, is a toy train lover’s dream. The 36 members of the Golden East Railroad Modelers, whose hobby is assembling trains and tracks, have put their work on display for free (donations are accepted). Maybe 100 locomotives and 500 cars run on tracks that go through tunnels and over high-rise bridges. Tracks intersect, but guys with remote control gadgets carefully monitor to make sure there are no collisions — although a 5-year-old grandson probably wouldn’t have minded a train wreck or two.

The Saturday after Christmas, my husband, grandson and I walked around for close to an hour admiring the different models, reading the names of the various trains and commenting on their colors. One line was painted pink.

“Is there really such a train?” I asked the man operating the control. “Oh no,” he responded. “Some of us use our imagination. Of course, there are others who want their models to be absolutely accurate. We call them rivet counters.”

Racing from one train to another, my grandson didn’t note the difference. He was more interested in watching a train go into and out of a tunnel or examining the intricate structures of the bridges. Occasionally, he’d take a break from observing the grownups operating trains and go play with the small Thomas the Train set on a track in the corner. Here, he himself could push a button to set the train in motion.

The Junction is open on Saturdays from 10 to 4, and the Saturday we visited, the mall was its usual not so busy self. But there was a steady trickle of visitors viewing the train display. Perhaps these folks, lured to the mall by this attraction, then went on to wander through the retail stores. I was at Golden East Crossing that Saturday morning for no purpose other than to see the trains, but as I entered the mall through Belk, I noticed all the great after-Christmas sales. Accompanied by a husband and a 5-year-old boy, I couldn’t stop to shop then, but I’m now planning to go back.

Maybe attractions like The Junction can be the salvation of the nation’s malls. With online shopping, it’s no secret that retail stores in malls nationwide are suffering. What can a mall do that Amazon can’t? It can give us a store full of miniature trains whistling around on toy tracks, delighting the kid in all of us.

Patsy Pridgen blogs at www.patsypridgen.com and is the author of “Ms. Dee Ann Meets Murder.”