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Dad's Collectibles moving to Saluda's historic train depot

Mark Ray stands with a Southern Railway locomotive. Mark Ray stands with a Southern Railway locomotive.

Mark Ray was telling a visitor about how he’d recruited Dennis Dunlap to fly his vintage 1943 Stearman biplane over a celebration of Berkeley Mills baseball park on Sept. 16 when he heard a distinctive sound from outside.

“It’s so good to hear that radial engine,” he said. “I recognize it every time I hear it.”
He marveled at the coincidence of Dunlap flying overhead just as he was talking about him. But maybe serendipity has become a pattern for Ray lately.
He’s moving his North Main Street store, Dad’s Collectibles, next month into the Saluda Historic Depot, where his line of model cars, trains and planes will fit with the railroad theme of the depot at the top of the historic Saluda Grade.
“I’ve been on the Saluda Historic Depot board since its inception and I was kind of the outsider,” he said. He approached Judy Ward, one of the organizers of the effort to save the depot, about moving his store into the building. You might say Ray is going to run the anchor store in the depot. Well, the only one, too.
“She said, ‘You’re the one I’ve been waiting for. You’re the one that has the train passion.’ And then it just kind of went from there,” he said.
The change in venue fits Ray’s devotion to local history. He’s the one who lobbied Coca-Cola to recreate the old advertising signs on the north and south facades of the historic Higgins Quality Print building at 620 N. Main St. A member of Hendersonville’s Historic Preservation Commission, Ray has been a strong advocate for downtown Hendersonville. When he moved Dad’s Collectibles from the 200 block to the 600 block of North Main Street 2½ years ago, he advocated for improvements and held events that he hoped would link downtown Hendersonville to the Historic Seventh Avenue District, which thrived when the train station brought hundreds of passengers.
“I had one city council member say I’m a traitor, which I don’t think is appropriate,” he said.
He hopes to promote Hendersonville even as he’s operating his new store.

“I want to look at tourism not on a city basis but on a regional basis,” he said.
Business is a part of the change, too.
“I’m dramatically reducing my overhead,” he said. “As the internet gets more aggressive and competitive, the brick-and-mortar stores have got to fine tune how they’re going to counter it.”
Gazing around the well-stocked shelves of his current store, he says he’ll have to have reduce the quantity of items.
“But the store in its entirety will be down there and represented in its entirety,” he said.
He’s on a “first name basis” with people at the North Carolina Transportation Museum at the historic Spencer Shops near Salisbury and hopes to establish a tie between the museum and the depot.
“As a matter of fact, they’ve got a great interest in the depot and a great interest in my old police car that was out here” at the old American service station. “That’s an old North Carolina Highway Patrol car.”
Ray plans to move his merchandise after Apple Festival weekend “because it’s just a colossal move. I’ve done it once.”
Next year marks the 20-year anniversary of Dad’s, which Dean McWilliams started as Dad’s CATS (Collectibles and Toys) in 1998. Ray bought it in 2012.
Hours at the Saluda Historic Depot will be 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Monday through Saturday and noon-4 p.m. Sunday.