As the owner of the Trading Post Train Shop, he refuses to use a computerized checkout system. Instead, he writes receipts by hand and plays the big swing bands of the ’40s and ’50s looped on a radio in the back while overseeing hundreds of little locomotives lining the walls. Whenever someone holds down the orange button near the front door, he lights up as a 1939 miniature five-car Lionel locomotive whirls around a tiny town in the center of a toy track tucked away in the window.
“When I play with trains, I feel I’m 10 years old again playing with my favorite toy at Christmastime,” says Berilla, who occasionally switches out accessories such as an oil derrick or maiden in need of rescue along the track. “The only difference is I’m drinking a beer or smoking a cigar now.”
Berilla turned his hobby into a profession when he purchased the 40-year-old Old Brooklyn store in 1990. Since then, the 2,500-square-foot space in a squat brick building has become one of the last remaining stand-alone havens for toy trains in Northeast Ohio.
Visitors travel from across the country to purchase boxcars, steam engines and yards of tin track stacked in almost every square inch of the place. Decades-old Lionel catalogues hang from the ceiling showcasing models from the ‘30s and ‘40s, a time in which industrial expansion and exploration were at the center of every child’s play set.
“The train is a toy within a toy,” says Berilla, who purchased his first train in 1959 for $18.95. “As the years go by, you’ve suddenly got all this action.”
In the basement, he breathes new life into old trains as a one-man repair shop, working beside a card-catalogue system that details the pieces, parts and procedures needed to keep up the machinery. Around the corner, there’s what he calls “the junkyard” — thousands of cable cars, transformers, log-dropping pressure switches and bubbling oil derricks collected over the years for when customers come looking for original parts.
“There’s grease in here that’s hardened older than me,” he says. From the 1956 Army train with a battery-operated tin tank for $400 to the hulking $279 A Christmas Story set with themed cable cars carrying quotes and stills from the movie, there’s something here for collectors and newcomers seeking a nostalgic trip to the past. “If you had a tinkerer’s mind,” says Berilla, “trains were cool.”
in the cle
11:00 AM EST
December 6, 2017