Train lovers in Harford County who have grown used to stopping by the Forest Hill Station for all their model train needs might soon have to look elsewhere to buy their intricate track pieces or to get a broken down engine examined.
Charlie Getscher is planning to shut down the store this year after slowly building his model train empire at the station since 1991.
"I just turned 70 years old," Getscher explained on a recent Sunday, as customers trickled in during the peak of his sales season between Thanksgiving and Christmas.
"I just want to retire," he said. "I don't want to leave, but I have to do a couple of things before I die."
He noted his wife, Ann, did all the bookkeeping in the store until her death several years ago and he has an 8-month-old grandson he would like to spend time with, as well as travel, perhaps on a train trip to Canada.
Getscher has yet to formally put the property up for sale and he has been trying to spread the word about its availability, hoping to find someone to take over the business.
So far, a couple of people have shown interest, but have not been able to get bank loans, he said.
"I would love to see somebody take it over and keep it going as what it is," he said. "If I don't have much success in the spring, I will probably have the auction house come in and take it over."
Since taking over the property, Getscher has been gradually adding pieces and equipment based on customers' demand, but business has been dropping off since 2002, as the era of Internet shopping really kicked in.
"It just kept adding and building. When I moved in here, I didn't even have shelves," he said. "For the last 10 years, it's been dropping off every year. I had my peak in 2002 and it's been dropping off."
The building itself dates to 1914 when it was part of the Maryland and Pennsylvania Railroad, now merely a memory in county initiatives such as the Ma & Pa Trail, which includes pieces of the railroad as a display.
Getscher got into the train business after leaving his job with the electric company, having spent 21 years as an electrician and also having worked with Amtrak locomotives since 1980.
The Jarrettsville resident believed Harford County needed a train store of its own.
"I started this because there was nothing up here," he explained. "I got tired of running to Baltimore."
The customers make the business meaningful for him.
"It's not a big profit situation, but if you love it, you enjoy the people," Getscher said. "I have so many friends now, it's unbelievable."
Customers were equally sad to hear that he was planning to leave.
"I think it's awful," Jocelyn Curtis, of Fallston, said about the business closing. She had brought 8-year-old Keller Curtis to the store to buy items like some rail pieces and a decorative house.
Keller excitedly explained: "I am going to build a giant track around the tree and make it all Christmas-y."
Curtis noted she comes to Forest Hill Station a couple times during the holiday season.
"[Keller] got very into trains, and this was the first place I was told to go," she said.
The business is more than just a place to buy train parts.
"You come in and you ask questions and they help you and guide you," Curtis said. "It's a friendly place to come."Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun