NEB&W Guide to Urban Stores
Structures Table of Contents
Scenery, Structures & Details Table of Contents
The biggest difference between European and American stores is due to the early acceptance in America of the flat tinned roof. Thus the best way to Americanize kits such as Kibri, Vollmer, etc. is to lop off the roof and any dormers and replace them with a built up cornice and flat roof.
The typical store of the mid-1800's is three story. On the other hand, modelers, always pressed for space, favor smaller buildings, so the two-story store kit is way over done. But if you take a pair of two-story kits and kitbash them to make one three story one, you get an extra storefront you might be able to use elsewhere. And in my opinion, this makes the model look more representative and less recognizable as "that same old tired kit on everybody's layout". (A number of our kitbashes I'm showing are four story, but that's because the buildings on River Street in Troy were mostly that high.)
The living quarters upstairs was generally reached by a door over to one side or the other in the front, less ornate than the door leading into the retail area. (In some cases, there was one door outside that led into a hallway, with a set of stairs toward the back for upstairs, and the retail entrance off the hall.)
During the mid-1800's, the visible walls of brick buildings were generally meant to be painted, as they used "common brick". Of course, in our day and age, exposing the brick is very "in", but this wasn't as typical during steam days, as they didn't have practical ways to remove the paint. Thus once paint, they refurbished the surface with more paint.
What this means in terms of modeling is that any steam-era color is suitable, you shouldn't stick with brick red for the walls, and you need not add mortar lines. And if the bricks are oversized, like they are on too many kits, or you have a scar where you removed an element, you needn't worry as much. Painted brick only needs a little texture to give it that "brick" look, and the paint can cover a lot of problem areas.
Bob Lunde designed the original Magnuson line of kits. The line was purchased by Walthers, and then they sold off most of the cast-resin kits to SS Ltd., but kept the styrene kits. Meanwhile, Lunde started up Design Preservation. Recently, I understand he is working for Bachmann, on their new skyscraper line of kits.
In steam days, lawyers, doctors, real estate offices, and other businesses with little visual appeal were rarely on the first floor. They didn't want to pay for the store windows. Nowadays, with so many of these buildings of marginal use, such business are down at street level. In steam days, too, you'd see a lot more specialized outlets, like a milliner (hat-maker), a butcher dealing in just pork or poultry, or a shoe repair (before the age of Nike, people used to get shoes repaired, instead of tossing them and getting new ones). For some ideas of period stores, see our NEB&W City Directory.
Under the Row House section, there is a lot more in-depth look at the development of the Victorian building. Much of this pertains to stores.
- Ramsey Journal Building - Based on an E.L. Moore article on scratchbuilding the building in Ramsey, NJ, built in 1896, and later the home of Railroad Model Craftsman. It was located right next to the main of the Erie, I think (or maybe the DL&W). The model was slightly condensed on its face, and greatly condensed on its length. The concrete trim was cast in a hideous blue-green plastic, but a little paint would do wonders. The brick walls of the prototype were rendered about as large and squarish as concrete blocks. There are cast-on quoins on the corners - otherwise it would be simple to resheath in H&R brick. I would almost think it would be worth it to scratchbuild new walls and use the trim, etc. of the kit. (But the windows, while not cast too thick, can be replaced by Grandt Line ones, I think - the 6 over 6 ones intended for a masonry wall. So if you replace the walls AND windows, there ain't much left of the original kit.)
- Uncle Al's/United Grocery - Later marketed under the IHC label and discussed below.
Many of the kits imported by Con-Cor were made by Heljan. Also see Heljan.
- B901 Two Brothers Restaurant - Has been reissued by Walthers as their kit no. 3034. See the discussion under that kit number.
- 902 Spring Green Stores - These were a pair of two-story brick stores, apparently imagineered. (One listing suggested they are based on buildings in Spring Green, WI.) My first impression of both is that the cornice is not anywhere heavy enough. These are both fairly simple and are a great spot to start kitbashing more ornate versions.
- Crooksville Bank - This kit is now being marketed by Walthers as Merchants Row III, kit no. 933-3064. See the discussion under that kit.
- Wright Bros. Cycle Shop - This kit is now being marketed by Walthers as "Neighborhood Food Mart, no. 933-3033. See the discussion under that kit.
Design Preservation Models
- 108 Goodfellows Hall - This two-story building has an unusual peak at the center of the cornice, as well as unique horseshoe-shaped arches over the windows. (There is one building in Troy with this shaped arch, so they aren't off the wall, but still unique.) I sanded off the arches and replaced them with castings I had made of semicircular ornate brick arch. You can cut off the entire cornice and replace it with one straight across for a more typical building. And finally, a three story kitbash gives you a left-over storefront which is one I find very useful.
- 109 Townhouse
- 110 Townhouse
- 111 Townhouse
Any of these three row houses could be made into a store by kitbashing the first floor with a storefront. No. 109 and 111 are better than no. 110, which represents a brownstone. (There are no brownstone stores that I'm aware of. I think this material must have been more expensive than brick and would have been wasted on just the upper floors.) These row houses are pretty narrow and it is tricky to find a storefront that will fit.
- 202 Pam's Pet Shop - This is basically a Norman-style building. Notice all the trim is rendered in brick. The trim along the top is a simplified machicolation. The two over one windows are a little unusual, and four over four would be more typical.
- Thanks to the magic of computers, here is what it would look like if you kitbashed two to get a three-story building.
- 101 Kelly's Saloon - With a digital kitbash to make a three-story building, complete with added mullions.
- 102 Roberts' Dry Goods - This two-story building is another candidate for a three-story kitbash and added mullions.
- 120 Front Street Building - Ditto with this two-story model (although I didn't bother to add the mullions on this "cut-and-paste").
- And here is our version, close to full-size.
- I wish I hadn't gone for unpainted brick, but this is meant for way in the background in Troy. (PS - If you look at the storefront, there is a door for the upper level to the right of each of the two store front doors. In general, if this is one building, there would only be one such door.)
- 113 Carol's Corner Cafe - This was kitbashed for a center-block area, and made four-story for River Street. In this case, I moved a post around from the corner wall and used a regular-width Grandt Line door for the kit's angled double-width door. (Note the upstairs door on the far right.) A lot of c. 1950's paint schemes for these buildings stuck with a dark brown cornice no matter what the other trim was colored. As usual, 1x2 styrene was added for vertical mullions.
- 243-116 Carr's Auto Parts - This is an early 1900's building, and as such, would not likely have living quarters upstairs. So here I wanted to see the effect of making it three story, but also making it a single story. In this case, I think the single story looks more typical.
- 243-118 First National Bank - Although not specifically stated by DPM, this structure is a representative of a cast iron front. The large windows on the upper two floors and the lack of a second door in the storefront indicates that the upper floors were commercial, not residential. This building is not limited to a financial establishment but could be used for any number of retail outlets.
- 243-204 Walker Building - This is a three-story building, which you could take the opposite tack of cutting it down to just two stories. The cornice has a strange step in the center, which I would try and eliminate.
This kit comes with separate window castings, which are typical DPM - very heavy. Luckily, Grandt Line windows fit very nice in the side and back openings. I think the castings I used were the 2 over 2 no. 5060, in which case I think that Grandt Line's 6 over 6 no. 5154 should also work. I didn't find any that would fit the front window openings. Like most of the DPM kits, the side and back windows are placed totally random (and thus silly). I disguised the back by building a staircase that zigged back and forth to cover the blank wall sections.
The side and back walls have a line of upright bricks over each opening, which dates this well into the 1920's, even though the rest of the styling would indicate Victorian. This trim protrudes slightly and it was very easy to sand off the mortar grooves to make this into a single piece of stone as a lintel.
- 806 Herald Star Newspaper
- 810 Luigi's Restaurant
- 809 Society Hill Townhouse
These are the same basic kit which was first offered as Uncle Joe's Barbershop. At first glance, the building has nice lines, sort of a Greek Revival urban building. The bricks are a good size. (This kit followed in the wake of the Ramsey Journal building with its atrocious sized bricks, so anything reasonable was welcomed.)
- Luigi's Restaurant was originally offered as a funeral parlor, with a long canvas marquee that extended out to the curb. It isn't too bad for either. The Herald Star building has Colonial Revival touches, making it c. 1890's through WWI. I would lop off the top of the tower for a different look. The townhouse is discussed in our House Kit section.
The biggest problem are the brick quoins molded into the corners. Quoins like this are not prototypical (at least I've never seen anything close.) I did cut one set off and used it sideways as a cornice. But if you cut them off the end walls, the end-most window edge is way too close. Nor does it seem practical to sand the quoins down and then add normal brick pilasters.
I took a side wall and by cutting it short by a whole column of windows, and cutting off the quoins on the other side, managed to get a good three-across set of windows.
As expected with so many plastic kits, the windows are very clunky. But in this case, Grandt Line castings can easily be substituted. I think it was their no. 300-5009, 6 over 6, or their 300-5117, two over two, that work. (Both styles work, it is just I am trying to decide what I used from the little pictures in the Walthers catalog.) In either case, insert them from inside, upside down, so there is no frame on the outside.
The walls have brick header courses over the windows, and brick sills with no relief. (Sills always project out to divert the rain water.) I made brick arches with Holgate & Reynolds and added styrene strips for sills. I did this to model a former row house in Troy, but you could do the same and retain the storefront area.
- 3504 Store & Auto Repair - I think this was first marketed by AHM. The little single-story garage is not bad. The two story store is too plain for any proper Victorian store, but it is a great starting point. (It needs cornice, lintels or arches over the windows, and I think even sills. But at least you don't have to remove stuff that doesn't belong.)
- I took the store, added stone quoins and a mansard roof (complete with iron cresting) from the Lionel station, SS Ltd. dormer windows, for a freelanced store in Chateaugay. (Hmmm, the next time I do this, I'd cut out a little of the height between the first and second floors, to get a more typical steam-era ratio.)
- 3507 Ice Cream Parlor & Boarding House
- 3508 General Store & Billiards Parlor
Many years ago, E.L. Moore did a scratchbuilding article on four stores, and AHM produced this pair of kits based on his article. As with so much post-steam freelancing, I feel the height between windows is too much for the height of the windows, themselves. If you agree, you could splice out a section in between. The buildings all need cornice for older style buildings. The brick one (part of no. 3508) has too square bricks. And as I try to point out in our section on storefronts, the bottom of a period storefront was not brick, even on a brick store.
Supply Line Models
- Supply Line kits are all cast-resin, but so well done you'd swear they were injection-molded kits from machined steel molds.
- 11023 Pete's Barber Shop - This is a tiny affair. It has a Greek Revival dental-trim cornice and Italianate segmented arches over the windows.
- 11030 Norris Real Estate - This is a great example of a modest mid-1800's store. Basically, it is a Greek Revival building (notice the sills over the windows and the wider look), with some Italianate influence (the bracketed cornice). I'd use the 1x2 method to make the windows into two-over-two's.
- 11024 Shamrock Saloon - This is my favorite. their I like the narrow look and the cornice and store front are finely detailed, but very typical.
- I kitbashed one of these into a two-story row house for Troy, by lopping off the store front and converting one window into a door. (The Carnation Milk sign came from a reefer decal.)
- 11011 Queen Anne Store - This is a good example of some of the variety of Queen Anne. Note the asymmetric use of the bay window, balanced by the larger window section on the right.
- 11026 Ritz Grill - I "half-like" this kit. On one hand, the storefront is a really neat Art Moderne style, with an Art Deco sign. But the building itself looks too plain. I'm thinking maybe this is what a '30's building should look like, but then again, I haven't seen many '30's urban buildings. I think that's because they weren't many - not much got built during the '30's, and if it did, I would think it would have horizontal "window-ribbons".
- I would guess this represents an older building modernized during the FDR period, with the fussy trim on the second story stripped away, particularly the cornice. (I have seen so many taller buildings knocked down a story or two, probably due to a fire, that this might have originally been a three story building.)
So my inclination would be to add back some trim, particularly a cornice, and heighten the contrast. A lot of times, the storefront is leased to a commercial concern that modernizes it, but since they don't own the building, can't touch the upper floors.
- 933-3001 Gemini Building - This is only of my favorites to kitbash. I love the small storefront section, with its closely spaced posts, which means I can often get it to fit on other stores. And it begs to be stacked three or even four stories high.
- As is, the trim over the windows is a modest form of Gothic, with the "dog-ears" extended to form a stringer course. This use of stone for contrasting trim means this is Ruskinian, so I would place this as late 1860's.
The first floor has two storefronts with the door to the upstairs between them. Thus to do this right, you should have two retail outlets downstairs (sometimes a concern took over an adjacent building and broke through the common wall), but the center door would not be part of this. It could even be painted a different color, and you might want to consider internal dividers to partition this off.
- Here is one version of a kitbash, three kits to make a four-story building (and two left-over storefronts). Note the use of the 1x2 vertical strips to form mullions. (In scanning this in close to real size, I realize the top is slightly tipped down to the right - but don't tell anyone.)
- Here is another kitbash, also tilted, I've just discovered. (Take my advice, don't use the mortar lines as a cutting guide.) In this case, I removed the stone lintels and stringer course and made the height of each floor a little less. (There wasn't the peak over each window to goose the sill of the window above.) New rectangular lintels were added with strip styrene, giving a Greek Revival look. (This, too is slated for near the backdrop.)
- I stacked a few of these to make a store for Troy in River Street.
- 933-3002 Bill's Glass Shop - A simple and unpretentious three-story structure. Here is a kitbash, to four stories, approximately full-size, again for our River Street, and with added mullions.
- This structure does have one minor problem. The cornice is higher than the side walls. That isn't totally outrageous, but it is very uncommon.
- 933-3004 Wallschlager Motors - This is a c. 1920's type of store I've seen all over the outskirts of Albany and Schenectady. I used the front wall to represent Bumstead Chevrolet in Troy. The front of our model faces slightly away from the aisle. We hope to modify the front a little more to resemble the prototype better.
Prototype photo c. 1935, courtesy of the Rensselaer County Historical Society.
- 933-3028 Merchants Row I
- 933-3029 Merchants Row II
This set of four buildings was originally produced by Magnuson, in cast resin. In this medium, it was a barely acceptable kit, particularly as the resin Walthers used had a nasty habit of curling. But several years ago they quietly reissued these in injection-molded styrene, and in my opinion these are sweet and too often overlooked by many modelers.
Again, I would get two and make these into three story buildings. Also, you can cut them apart into individual stores and rearrange them. And don't forget the 1x2 styrene strip to make two over two windows.
Here's a kitbash of three Merchants Row II kits to make a pair of four story buildings, again for River Street. I kept the photo large to help you appreciate the fine crisp detail of these kits. The red and green building has Italianate "hoods" over the windows, while the cream-colored one has low-key Gothic (note the peak). If I was doing for a close-up area, I'd rearrange the green storefront so two of the windows are adjacent and one door is over to one side, for the upstairs entrance.
- Merchants Row II has a sort of "squeezed" look to it. I took advantage of this to model a store near the backdrop.
- 933-3033 Neighborhood Food Mart - This kit was originally produced by Heljan/Con-Cor, apparently based on the Wright Brothers Cycle shop moved to and preserved at the Ford Museum. (If you remember your aviation history, the Wright Brothers operated a bicycle shop while they tinkered on their airplane designs.)
I don't know the history of the prototype building, but it looks like it was an originally a brick house, with the front extended and made into a storefront. (Thus if you were creative, you could make the sides and back into a house, and give the front new brick sides.) The storefront and cornice is very typical, but the baskethandle arched double windows are too unique for my tastes.
I started a kitbash for a store in Chateaugay. The front is based closely on a prototype in Chatham, but for the rear, I used this kit.
- 933-3034 Store - This kit was originally produced by Heljan as Two Brothers Restaurant, said to be based on a real structure on Milwaukee's Southeast Side, estimated to have been built c. 1892. There needs to be some trim, a brick arch, something over each to the two storefront windows.
- I would call this a Norman structure, due to the use of brick for the trim. (With that late a built date, I guess it really is Romanesque.)
And once again, I had to play with the image to see what it would look like kitbashed to three stories. (The perspective is a little screwed up.) I also lowered the pitch of the tower roof and opened up the half window on the side, as normally bathroom windows were not seen on the street side. (Victorian buildings didn't often have inside plumbing, and bathrooms were generally place in an interior space. Or a bathroom retrofit would not normally get a rebuilt window. Anyway, get rid of a half windows.
- Walthers painted their kit for cream-colored exposed brick, but that type of brick is too modern for the style, I feel. Paint it brick red.
If I really doing this kitbash, I'd try to get a "S" shaped tower roof, like from the Revell station or Woodland Scenics Gazebo, or maybe just leave it off entirely.
In Chateaugay, I made a freelanced store by moving the angled wall around to the front and making the tower into just a bay. (Where did I come up with this color combination?) Over the front window, I curved a section of an Atlas picket fence to simulate an arch. And I added a cornice.
- 933-3064 Merchants Row III - This kit started as a plans in the Oct. '72 Model Railroader as a bank building. There were a couple of photos of the prototype, and the plans followed it very closely, but the plans also showed a model, I believe built by J.N. Stanbery. The plans called this the Crooksville Bank Block, but I think this might have been Stanbery's name for his model. There is a Crooksville, OH which has a bank by the same name, opened in 1902, but no pictures of their facilities seem to match this building. And I don't see a Crooksville in any other state.) Originally the kit was produced by Heljan.
- I would consider this to be a Romanesque style, with the machicolation trim and the arched windows with exposed brick arches. I would guess the large windows would put this in the 1890's or 1900's. The storefront area I think has been modernized post-steam. Since the cornice trim is a separate piece, you can leave this off and thus vary the appearance significantly. Also, the cornice trim can be added to other structures.
I had always thought the kit's storefronts represent modernized ones, post steam. However, the two prototype photos in the article, which, although undated, only show 1940's autos, so I would guess the storefronts are suitable for steam-era.
I used two of these kits for a three story building in Chateaugay, based on a prototype in Chatham, NY. In this case, I added a strip of styrene over each window to cover the segmented arch. The styrene was something like 40 x 125 mil., and I carved the face of each lintel to look like rough-hewn stone. (In retrospect, I don't know why I didn't paint the stone gray. Even if I go back and find that the Chatham prototype had them red, I still might consider retouching them.)
For the storefronts, I used Campbell porch pillars (probably too thin for cast-iron storefront members) and brass ladderstock in the top of the storefront windows to resemble transoms, but I think the brass should have been painted. Oh, well, awnings should cover them.
- 933-3600 River Street Mercantile - At first glance, this might be mistaken for a "Wild West" store and certainly could be used there. But there were buildings like this in the East, too.
- This has Italianate flavor. Notice the windows are topped with a "pediment". (Unlike the Gothic peak, this runs all the way to the ends.)
Frame structures like this are rare in urban areas.
This has nice lines as it. However, to modify this so it didn't look recognizable, the first thing I'd do is add a shed type roof to the front. If I wanted to use a second kit within visible range of the first one, I'd cut out about three feet between the first and second story. And you could take the back three walls and give them a new front and take the front and add new sides and back, but with a flat roof. (You can't just leave the peaked roof off, as a flat-roofed building would have the side walls at least as high as the front, if not a few feet higher.) Or make the new back with the peak parallel to the street.
Okay, don't laugh at these cyber-kitbashing efforts - the original is on the upper left.