FASCINATION STATION & SLOT CAR JUNCTION CO-OWNERS Cathy Piffath and Jeff Cooper at their store’s grand reopening in early December.

FASCINATION STATION & SLOT CAR JUNCTION CO-OWNERS Cathy Piffath and Jeff Cooper at their store’s grand reopening in early December.

BRUNSWICK

After nearly a year of searching for a new space,

Fascination Station & Slot Car Junction has reopened in east Brunswick.

Its new digs at Merrymeeting Plaza — in the former home of Coldwater Creek women’s clothing store — may also help pump new blood into the strip mall that for years appeared to be on life support.

 

 

The local business celebrated its reopening on Dec. 8 at Merrymeeting.

Fascination Station & Slot Car Junction had been looking for a new space since leaving the Tontine Mall last January. Their old space was partially taken over by a bathroom expansion, according to the Brunswick Downtown Association, meaning there wasn’t enough room for Slot Car Junction’s tracks.

“We lucked into this,” said Jeff Cooper, who owns the business with Cathy Piffath, speaking at the reopening in the new, spacious store at Merrymeeting.

“People are often looking for places to take the kids when it’s raining,” said BDA Executive Director Debora King. “This is great because there’s plenty of parking. There’s lots to do. This is a real fun space. … It’s considerably larger than what they had.

 

 

“Anything that can bring the population to this area is good,” she added. “With the growth of Brunswick Landing and the increased number of folks working out there, I think they’re in a pretty good location.”

Brunswick Economic Development Director Linda Smith has been working with the owners since they had to exit the Tontine Mall to find new space, referring them to Merrymeeting.

“Merrymeeting Plaza was excited, we’re excited,” she said. “When people come off the train looking for family friendly things to do, we just don’t have as much as we’d like. We didn’t want to lose that. I’m really glad they moved from downtown to here, as opposed to some other location.”

Slot cars exploded in popularity by the 1960s, but their zenith was short-lived, when arcade and home video games overtook the hobby. Slot car racing still has many die-hard fans, some who have invested thousands of dollars into their basement tracks.

Depending on the model, a single slot car can cost hundreds of dollars, but one can purchase a beginner set — cars and track included — for just under $50.

Those who aren’t sure they want to take the slot car plunge can also rent Slot Car Junction’s track, which is also used for tournaments and parties at the store.

“Our philosophy behind the shop is non-virtual fun,” Cooper said. “We try to create a non-virtual emporium, for lack of a better term.

“It gets kids off their iPhones, and they have to deal with other people face-to-face,” he added. “It breaks down those barriers to communication.”

It’s also a cross-generational activity.

“You’ve got little guys racing against old guys,” Cooper said. “It’s amazing to see.”

Their new space feels larger and more open than their previous space at Tontine — enough to easily fit its new 56-foot-long, 12-foot-wide track.

Like at the Tontine location, the business still sells toys, puzzles and games designed to be different, fun and educational. There’s now the extra bonus of having plenty of room for youngsters to play and for adults to just hang out.

“We’re trying to create an experience, one that’s not just shopping,” Piffath said. “Retail’s a tough nut to crack, these days, so our focus is on the experience of being here.”

A quarter of the shop’s space will be dedicated to the outdoors, Cooper said.

“That’s our background, professionally,” he noted.

Cooper and Piffath both have experience in the outdoor industry at L.L. Bean, REI and Perception Kayak, according to the BDA. The two have owned H2Outfitters Sea Kayaking Adventures in Harpswell for more than 35 years. Cooper and Piffath want families to become more physically active. So they formed the Get Outdoors initiative, which they say will incorporate snowshoeing and winter camping as well as biking, hiking and kayaking during the warmer months.

“It’s designed to get kids and their parents doing things together,” Cooper said. “We’re looking at getting them doing some snowshoeing over at the former Brunswick Naval Air Station, free of charge. We’re hoping to get snowshoes at a reasonable rate, though we may have to rent them. We’ll be leading the trips.

“I think it’s important that the first experience with kids — outdoors — is a memorable experience, a fun experience,” he added. “If we can make it accessible, non-threatening, I think it’ll be a winner.”

Cooper said he’d also like to plan an outdoor winter camping experience, perhaps at Harpswell’s Mitchell Field or on land at the former Brunswick Naval Air Station. In the springtime, there are plans for hiking, biking and kayaking.

As to how that relates to the very indoor activity of slot cars, Piffath said: “I say it’s all about indoor or outdoor fun.”

“It’s off the computers, it’s off the screens,” she added. “On a rainy day, this is good. On a nice day — let’s go outdoors.”

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