Model Train Shop Helps Keep Neighboring Museum on Track

The Cooley family has owned the J.A. Cooley Museum and Frank the Trainman, two business next door to each other, since 1983

NBC Universal, Inc.

It’s hard finding the silver lining of 2020.

“Everybody wants to go back to normal,” said Ladd Graham while standing outside the J.A. Cooley Museum in University Heights.

“Getting harder and harder,” said Carmen Cooley, who owns the museum.

Carmen and her late husband Jim Cooley have owned the museum since 1983.

“He always came with the answer,” said Carmen Cooley.

However, her husband may not have had an answer for the pandemic. Their museum is home to roughly 30 collections including cars, cameras, and typewriters. 2020 actually started very well.

“We had record numbers coming in this building,” said Graham, who married into the Cooley family. “But the pandemic hit, shut down, and it just went to a complete halt.”

They’ve been able to stay open during the pandemic thanks to the other business they own right next door: Frank the Trainman. Graham said it’s the oldest model train shop in the country. However, he admitted sales were dipping well before 2020.

“100%. It’s an industry that’s on the decline,” he said.

This is where the pandemic actually helped.

“It’s been interesting because we’ve seen an influx of business,” said Graham. “Unexpected in this pandemic, but it kind of makes sense with everybody being at home. To a certain extent it’s been pleasant because we’re getting new people wanting to experience trains again.”

It’s an experience that has helped keep the Cooley Museum open.

“This is their love and their passion,” said Graham about his in-laws.

He added the museum is still open by appointment only. Frank the Trainman is open daily.

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