The store sells a variety of model train paraphernalia, including scenic displays as well as locomotives, cabooses and passenger cars at six scales, from its smallest offering Z scale—1/220 of real size—up to a G scale — 1/22.5 of real size. The store also showcases its own layouts—the land and cityscapes around a track—including ones showing parts of Houston.
The most popular scale at the store, however, is HO, approximately 1/87 the size of the original.
“It’s still our most popular size,” said owner Allyn Pearlman, who has been running the store since 2008 at its location on Bellaire Boulevard. “There is just more variety.”
Old and new customers patronize the store, including those from outside Houston; a customer even ordered from Australia in early September.
The train store’s loyal following was established in 2000 at its first store on South Boulevard, when it was owned by Allyn’s brother, Ben. His grandson called him “Papa Ben,” which inspired the name.
Ben died of a heart attack in 2006, leaving ownership to his wife, who then transferred ownership to Allyn in 2008 with one requirement: to get a cancer screening. Turns out, he did have cancer, though it was detected early enough for removal.
After 12 years, the store is thriving, even during the COVID-19 pandemic, which forced it to close for over a month.
“We’ve been doing OK,” he said. “Actually, business has increased.”
Meanwhile, Allyn and his 8-year-old greyhound, Sonoma, the “Train Dog,” greet customers while following health and safety guidelines.
“We have a very loyal following,” Allyn said. “A lot of people want to see and feel the product instead of ordering online.”
Papa Ben’s Train Place
4007 Bellaire Blvd., Ste. E, Houston
Hours: Mon.-Sat. 10 a.m.-3 p.m. Closed Sun.