As the holidays near, an iconic local model train shop is facing possible derailment over unpaid loans and rent by a new owner.
For nearly 40 years, St. Petersburg resident Alice Gertrude Morris has owned H&R Trains — which claims to be the largest train store in Florida and the second largest model-train store in the U.S. For much of that time, H&R was at 6901 U.S. Highway 19 N in Pinellas Park, a property owned by Morris and her husband Eldon “Don” Morris via A.D. Morris Properties.
H&R — which began in the corner of a five and dime in the now-defunct Gateway Mall — is more than a store; it offers an outdoor garden railroad, a research library and learning center with videos and literature about prototype and model railroads, with material as far back as 1939.
Don was a customer when he first met Alice.
In 2012, the couple announced they were looking to sell the store. By 2014, they were still looking.
“We’ve had a lot of fun,” Don Morris told a reporter. “We’ll miss it, but it’s time.”
“We are trying to find the right person. A younger person with a passion for trains who will move the business forward,” Alice told the Tampa Bay Times.
After several years of looking for a buyer, Alice and Don Morris sold H&R Trains to Colin Morris (no relation) in 2016.
In a divorce petition filed April 2017 against Laura Edith Morris, Colin Morris listed on his financial statement that he was a firefighter/paramedic with the Treasure Island Fire Department. He also is a U.S. Army Reservist who receives disability benefits from Veterans Affairs.
As part of the deal, the couple loaned Colin $750,000 (with the train store as collateral) and leased the real estate to him for $3,240 per month.
According to a lawsuit filed Nov. 15 in Pinellas County Circuit Court, Colin Morris has not made a monthly payment on the note or the rent since June 2017.
The filing states that Colin Morris did not pay rent starting in July, when he gave a check but by asking Alice Morris not to deposit it. In August 2017, Colin Morris also made three payments of $500.00 for $1,500.00 paid (Aug. 18, Aug. 30 and Aug. 31). Therefore, Colin Morris did not make a full August rental payment, and failed to make all later rental payments.
Alice Morris is seeking immediate payment of the full loan amount plus interest, foreclosure of the secured assets, and eviction.
The suit does not show how much Colin Morris agreed to pay for H&R Trains.
In the financial statement filed for his divorce case, Colin Morris listed H&R Trains among his assets. However, he claimed the business had “negative value,” with a stated liability that includes a $750,000 business loan.