Editor’s note: The Federation Trading Post is a fascinating piece of Star Trek history. The first of its kind, the Trading Post was an all-Star Trek store founded by Chuck and Sandy Weiss in the 1970s in New York City and boasted “the only Star Trek museum in the galaxy.” Doug Drexler, who later became famous for his work on Trek (including two Emmy nominations), got his start working at the Trading Post and has since stated that the store’s founders “ignited a couple of careers.”
The Federation Trading Post didn’t last forever; today, a skyscraper stands in its place on 53rd Street. Eventually, it turned into a mail order catalog but ultimately went the way of, well, the mail order catalog. Although its time was finite, the Federation Trading Post had a huge impact on Trekkies of all ages. Chris Gilleece grew up in Brooklyn, watching Star Trek as it aired in syndication in the 1970s. He had the distinct pleasure of visiting the Trading Post, and below he shares his memory of the iconic store.
In the 70s, when I was a kid growing up in Brooklyn, New York, Star Trek used to air at 6:00 p.m. Monday to Friday on WPIX TV, Channel 11. One night, right after the show, a 30-second commercial flashed across my TV set: there was now a retail store in New York City called The Federation Trading Post devoted to selling all things Star Trek. It was the first store of its kind. I couldn’t believe it.
If you were a fan in the 70s, you knew how desperate we were for anything Star Trek, so having a store that sold nothing but stuff related to my beloved Star Trek was a dream come true. I went nuts and immediately ran to the next room to tell my Dad that I had to go there. SOON.
The store was located at 210 East 53rd Street in Manhattan, a city block that, in those days, was a mix of businesses, restaurants, and residences. I was the first one out of the car. I ran up the open-iron type steps to a patio deck where I immediately spotted a large rendering of Spock with the Vulcan salute and the words “The Federation Trading Post” on the store’s front window.
I opened the door and walked in, then reached an immediate state of euphoria as my 10-year-old eyes took in the various kinds of Star Trek merchandise on display. When my family came in behind me I could barely hear them making jokes about my current state of mind; I was transfixed. I flipped again when I saw the mini-musuem that was set-up inside the store. I was like an addict, getting the biggest Star Trek fix of all time.
The museum room was lined with accurate reproductions of the control panels and transporter back-glass from the Enterprise, a Balok puppet head and a large scale model replica of a Klingon battlecruiser. There was a phaser displayed among some tribbles and other fan-made props like agonizers and hypo-sprays. They also had William Shatner’s first season green uniform tunic with rank braid on the shoulders. As I gazed upon all of these gems, recorded Star Trek sound effects played in the background on a loop.
I had a tear in my eye, if I remember correctly.
Now, at the behest of my family, I was asked to stop gazing at the museum and start shopping as this was going to be a long process.
I delved deep: photographs of all sizes and types, posters, model kits, books, blueprints, key-chains (they used to carry a “Doomsday Machine” key-chain, which I have never seen since), tribbles, insignia patches, iron-ons, t-shirts, authentic reproductions of third season (polyester) uniform shirts in all colors and hand-made electronic phaser props. I was drooling at this point and was surprised that I wasn’t getting asked to leave for soaking the store’s carpet.
I looked at what ever money I had with me and figured Dad would kick me a few bucks… but whatever money my pops would give me wouldn’t be enough to buy an accurate uniform shirt or a prop quality electronic phaser.
If I remember correctly, the uniform shirts were going for around forty bucks a piece (over $200 in today’s money), and the beautiful phaser prop had an asking price of about $175.00 (around $1,000 in modern dollars), despite what it says on the photo. Both were kingly sums back in 1976.
After a long reconnaissance of the store’s wares I proceeded to pay for three insignia patches (which I still have), a few color photos and what was probably my 100th AMT “Star Trek Exploration Kit”. (I know I’m not the only one who went through these Phaser, Communicator & Tricorder model kits like water!)
When I approached the counter to pay, I saw that the cashier had a Boa Constrictor snake wrapped around his neck! I thought it might be a baby Gorn or something. Turns out, he was one of the store’s owners and let me pet the snake and try the electronic prop phaser that was kept on a shelf behind him. I actually considered running out of the store with it, it was that beautiful. It was clear that this was now my Mecca, my favorite store on the planet.
By now, my family had had enough of my drooling enthusiasm for this fantastic store and ushered me out, my mother explaining to me the economics of why I couldn’t get that official Kirk shirt (with a gold rank braid that was actually correct!) and that we would return again. And we did. My grandmother on my father’s side lived off Third Avenue, and so future treks to the Federation would be on the way! Excellent!
Alas, my dream store faded away after I moved from Brooklyn to New Rochelle, NY. In 1977, The Federation Trading Post closed the doors of its Manhattan store. After that, The Federation Trading Post West opened in California and was strictly a mail-order catalogue business. I’m pretty sure the mail-order business has been defunct for years now.
For all of you who were lucky to have had the experience of the Federation Trading Post, especially at that real “kid age,” you can relate to all of this. It really was a special place for us fans. For all of you who didn’t get a chance to visit this once upon a time midtown magic, I wish you could have!