The “Big Fun” Story
It all started in the summer of 1982 with my visit to Chicago and walking into a wonderland of a store called Goodies. I remember telling the owner that I had to sit down because I felt too good. You have to understand what it was like to go back 50 years and see toys in the original splendor amongst a bunch of unique and other pop culture items. The owner, Ted Frankel, would become a dear friend, a mentor, and a person whom I would like to be when I grow up [….] which we know will never happen [….] at least the growing up part.
Flash forward to 1989. I came across a warehouse of “goodies” in southern Ohio. At first, I nibbled at what was on many floors and then I called my friend Ted. I asked him if it would make sense for me to open a store like his. His immediate response was “Yes, I will help you!” I then said, “And by the way, I found a warehouse full of old toys and novelty items from the 50’s, 60’s, 70’s, and 80’s [….] would you like to come and check it out with me?” You have to understand that much like the gold rush days; one NEVER tells another soul about a “find”. But Ted’s a special soul and I knew it was just the right thing to do. So I became Indiana Jones Jr. on our many trips to this incredible warehouse. Ted continued to remind me that finds like this don’t come too often and that I should be thankful for this one. The Davy Crockett toy watches (and there were hundreds of them) helped launch my store. By the way, Ted was the one who named my store Big Fun.
November 1990. On a street just a few blocks from my home in Cleveland Heights, in a neighborhood called Coventry Village, I opened a “temporary” store while I renovated my permanent place across the street. This “temporary” store consisted of exposed wooden floor, unsanded drywall, and stringed construction lights loosely hanging from the ceiling. I tossed a couple 60’s and 70’s posters on the walls, a couple of old fixtures, and I was open for business! Let’s just say that the first impression of the place left something to be desired. The whole idea was to capture holiday business and raise a few bucks while we renovated what was a long vacant, trashed out building across the street.
The public seemed to like this “temporary” store and we made ends meet, made a few bucks, and pumped it all into our new place. The new store was a total gut and remodel and we were proud to bring a lot of Cleveland history into that new storefront. Our floors came from the Kinsman-Lee Bowling Lanes which were a total pain to remove and I thank my brother-in-law Marc for being so patient with the removal and reinstallation of these classic floors. Our light fixtures came from Higbee’s Department Store downtown and were from the 40’s made of spun aluminum. Quite Spectacular. Two old wooden card catalogs from the Cleveland Public Library, some old jewelry cases from the teens out of Taddeo’s Jewelry Store in Little Italy, and wooden display islands for our junque came from Madison 5 and Dime on the west side of Cleveland. When the store was filled and we opened the doors, the public now got to see the true vision of Big Fun.
I talked my father out of retirement and Big Marve, commonly known as Pops, became a fixture in the new Big Fun store. We worked side-by-side for many years and sadly he passed away nearly 12 years ago. People still come in today and ask about Pops or reminisce about him or one of their fun encounters with the old guy. He was a tough guy to replace. Also helping out was my mom, Beverly. Nobody had a better memory of customers’ purchases or could sell like mom. No high pressure, just complementary purchases. As the old line goes, Big Fun had become an institution and I should be in one. Few things give me more joy than watching the face of a customer after walking in and experiencing Big Fun. The name says it all and Ted was so right-on with our store’s title and mantra.
We stayed 14 years at that location, then the time and opportunity came to be a couple doors down from a true institution, Tommy’s Restaurant, and yes, another one of my mentors, Tommy Fello. The new store is twice the size of the old one at roughly 3,400 square feet. Like the old store, it’s jam-packed to the rafters (yes, we have 12 ft. ceilings). The new place is more organized and more user-friendly. After years of renting, we finally bought our very own retro black and white photo booth. I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention my wife Debbie who not only stood by me with this crazy idea that I had, but also painstakingly painted both stores. My kids were also inspirational to me throughout the Big Fun growing years. To my friends, neighbors, and customers, the word “thanks” is not good enough.
So I invite you, the public, to physically experience what Big Fun is about. If you can’t make it to Cleveland, there’s always the photo tour of our store. There’s nothing better than opening up a drawer and seeing an item you had when you were a kid or opening up snake-nut can and watching the expression on the face of the person next to you. As my friend Ted says, “Come shopping [….] leave smiling.” We all wish life was always this much fun.