Filed Under Businesses

Big Fun Toys

On April Fools Day 1991, people discovered Big Fun in Coventry Village. Awed by the colorful decorations, circus-like atmosphere, and thousands of vintage toys, those patrons surely thought that the store's owners, Marvin Presser and his son Steve, had brought something entirely new to the area. They were right.

The first home of Big Fun was located where Jimmy John's Gourmet Sandwiches now stands at 1827 Coventry Road. Empty and run down, Steve Presser deemed the former site of the C-Saw Café, a notorious biker bar, would be perfect for the new store.

The Pressers brought together many pieces of Cleveland's history to make Big Fun's first home. The floors in the front of the store were redone using wood from the lanes of the Kinsman-Lee Bowling Alley. Madison Five and Dime, which had operated in Lakewood, supplied Big Fun with its fixtures. To display some of their merchandise, the Pressers used 1910s jewelry cases from Taddeo's, a former Little Italy jewelry store. Illuminating the store were light fixtures from Higbee's, a department store that operated in Cleveland from the 1860s to the 1990s.

Big Fun made—and was filled with—history. Sixty to seventy percent of the store was filled with items Steve Presser has acquired from warehouses: "oodles and oodles of old merchandise," most of it in the original packaging. Presser also bought toys from people's childhoods. G.I. Joes, Star Wars Action Figures, Atari and other older gaming systems, Polly Pockets, and My Little Pony were just a few of the notable items that ensured patrons’ childhoods would never end. Moreover, Big Fun bought and sold toys from as far back as the 1930s. That’s a lot of childhoods.

After Marvin's death in 1998, Steve Presser's mother, Beverly, became his partner until she passed away in 2005. “I was so happy to be able to work with both of them,” Steve recalled. “It was a real 'mom and pop' shop.”

In 2005, Steve Presser moved Big Fun to a much larger location across the street: the former space of High Tide, Rock Bottom at 1814 Coventry Road. Along with his merchandise, Presser brought over the old store's light fixtures, photo booth, glass cases, signs, the circus-like awning, and an enormous refrigerator retrieved from a mansion in Shaker Heights. After more than a quarter century, Big Fun pulled up stakes from Coventry Village and reopened in partnership with B. A. Sweetie Candy in a new "lifestyle center" in Orange Village.

Audio

Putting Smiles on People's Faces Big Fun owner Steve Presser talks about becoming a successful part of the community. Source: Cleveland Regional Oral History Collection
Old Store Big Fun owner Steve Presser talks about the pieces of Cleveland's history that went into the renovation of his old store. Source: Cleveland Regional Oral History Collection
New Old Stock Big Fun owner Steve Presser talks about warehouses and how they have helped him fill his store with "new old stock." Source: Cleveland Regional Oral History Collection
Local Artists' Work at Big Fun Big Fun owner Steve Presser talks about the local artists who have contributed their work to making Big Fun a unique and colorful store. Source: Cleveland Regional Oral History Collection

Images

Signs, Fixtures and Color Schemes When Presser moved to his new location, he brought over many of the signs, fixtures and cases from his old store. The interior design, however, was drastically changed. For example, Big Fun's previous store had been decorated with fifties colors, but Presser decided to go with bold, basic kindergarten colors for the new place. The block letters hanging from the ceiling made up the sign of the old store, and, as they are here, were hung at angles to create a whimsical look. The light fixtures and the glass cases were also brought over from the previous location. Creator: Heidi K. Fearing Date: 2012
Big Fun's Original Home Big Fun opened in 1991 in the former home of the C-Saw Cafe, one of Cleveland Heights' most notorious biker bars. Source: Cleveland Memory Project, Cleveland State University Library Special Collections Date: July 31, 1969
High Tide Rock Bottom, 1977 High Tide Rock Bottom (far right) was the last business occupant of 1814 Coventry Road prior to Big Fun moving in. The owner, Marcia Polevoi was known her support of the gay and lesbian community. High Tide Rock Bottom opened its doors in 1973 and permanently closed on October 2, 2005. Creator: Joe Polevoi Date: 1977
Before it was Big Fun Behind the sword-fighting event at the Coventry's 1978 Street Fair is Coventry Audio and Video. This was just one of a few businesses that occupied 1827 Coventry Road before Big Fun began renovations on the building in 1990. When Big Fun opened in 1991, Medic Drug was to the right, and Hyde Park Grille was to the left. Behind Big Fun was a kosher poultry store. Creator: Joe Polevoi Date: 1978
Big Fun's Second Location Big Fun moved to its second location at 1814 Coventry Road in 2005. Unsurprisingly, the move across the street from 1827 Coventry Road was "pretty comical," according to the store's owner Steve Presser. The red-and-white-stripped awning, along with its "circus feel" was one of the many decorations brought over from the old store. The neon sign above the door, however, was done for the new store. It was the work of Dana DePew, a local reclamation artist. Creator: Heidi K. Fearing Date: 2012
A BIG, Fun Statement Big Fun was filled with Cleveland history as well as strange artifacts. The gigantic refrigerator to the right is an example of both. Presser got the 1940s fridge in a trade with one of his customers who had retrieved it from a mansion in Shaker Heights. On top of the refrigerator was another oversized decoration—a Big Fun lunch box—created by Marc Janx. Creator: Heidi K. Fearing Date: 2012
Follow the Yellow Brick Road When Steve Presser first realized his calling to invest his love of collecting and fun into a toy store, he described the epiphany as "like the first time you see the Wizard of Oz and it goes from black and white to color." Near the top of this photograph you can see what may be a subconscious tribute to that feeling - a rotating model of Auntie Em's house on which a Dorothy doll is hanging. Although not visible in this picture, the floor beneath the house is painted to resemble the Yellow Brick Road. Creator: Heidi K. Fearing Date: 2012
Graffiti Ceiling Six graffiti artists, including the son of store owner Steve Presser, spent four days spray painting Big Fun's ceiling. The ceiling, which looked like a modern-day Sistine Chapel, includes characters such as Alfred E. Newman and Mr. T. Creator: Heidi K. Fearing Date: 2012

Location

Metadata

Heidi Fearing, “Big Fun Toys,” Cleveland Historical, accessed May 23, 2022, https://clevelandhistorical.org/items/show/427.