Menards HO scale shopping center

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Two-story brick storefronts are fine for the transition era, but the modern day is the era of the strip mall. Menards is offering such a structure for HO scale layouts, a factory-assembled shopping plaza with five realistic storefront displays, almost a dozen figures, and more than 30 dazzling light-emitting diodes.

Curb appeal. The structure is built of 1⁄8" medium density fiberboard (MDF) on an acrylic base. The simulated tar paper roof appears to be paper laminated on MDF. The white-painted cornices on the fascia are milled wood, which is rather rough in texture.

The strip mall has five facades, each of which is labeled with a bright, colorful printed sign on the fascia over the sidewalk. Some are named for real businesses, including Chicago Burger Co. and the Whirlpool Appliance store; others are generic, notably the central Dollar Store, whose font bears a passing resemblance to that of a well known dollar store chain.

Each business has a large, modern-looking windowed storefront, behind which is a photo print of an appropriate store interior. Being set back about 1⁄4" from the windows, these pictures do a decent job of giving the impression of an interior, especially if viewed at an angle matching the photo’s viewpoint. The building’s architecture would be appropriate from the 1980s until today, although you might want to backdate some of the signs for earlier eras.

The sidewalk is populated by 11 painted figures, one of whom is Jack the German shepherd, who is a fixture on every Menards structure. (I was pleased that Jack is responsibly leashed.) The figures are made from a flexible plastic, so one of the figures on our sample leaned at a gravity-defying angle. Pegs on the figures’ feet are stuck into holes with a rubbery glue, so I pulled the uncomfortably reclining figure loose and reinstalled her standing upright.

The structure is less than 31⁄4" deep, making it easy to fit in compact spaces, but the 11 1⁄2" long facade presents the appearance of a much more substantial building. The sides of the building are flat, so a modeler desiring a larger structure could abut two or more side by side, relabeling the businesses on the fascia above the sidewalk.

Light it up. Like other Menards structures, the strip mall is wired with dozens of light-emitting diodes (LEDs) for illumination. The manufacturer’s website simply says the building has “more than 30 LEDs;” my count was 32. Since the LEDs are assembled in strips that are cut to length during installation, yours may vary by one or two.

One strip of LEDs illuminates the sidewalk and storefronts; three more strips light up the signs on the fascia. It’s a good thing the cornices above the latter hang down slightly in front of the LEDs, because wow, they’re really bright.

To power the lights, Menards sells a 4.5V wall-wart-style transformer separately (item no. 279-4061, $7.99). I would recommend using a 3V power supply instead; a lower voltage will both extend the life of the light-emitting diodes and keep their brightness from overwhelming your layout.

The building has two jacks to plug in the power supply: one exposed on the back wall, and one on a short pigtail accessed through a hole in the floor. If you plan on placing your strip mall where the back wall can be seen, you can cover that jack with an advertising sign, a Dumpster, a shrub, or the like.

A downtown highlight. If you’re looking for a quick and eye-catching way to fill in a downtown scene on a modern layout, check out Menards’ new strip mall shopping center. With its dozens of bright LEDs, it’s sure to be a standout. I’m sure Jack the German shepherd will thank you.

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