Meet Steve Presser, founder of Big Fun Toy Store
in Cleveland Heights and Cleveland, with 10 employees. Big Fun has delighted "children" of all ages with its award winning toys, gifts, Cleveland souvenirs, and collectibles for over 20 years. Voted one of the 20 Coolest Stores in America by Playboy, Big Fun draws customers come from all over the world. The stores are known as a cornucopia of delights; a cathedral of counter-culture; and a warehouse of nerdabilia and nostalgia.
What did you think you were going to do when you graduated from high school?
I thought I was going to go to medical school. I was pre-med at The University of Michigan.
Why did you start your business?
I spent seven years working as a stockbroker/investment executive with Paine Webber before opening my first Big Fun store on Coventry. I was looking for something different, so I went from "stock” to “schlock." I loved to collect things my whole life. I was a damn good frog catcher and bug collector.
Did you always collect toys or vintage items?
I collected all sorts of things, and toys were one of many collections. My favorite toy was Rock 'em Sock 'em Robots.
What is the biggest struggle or hurdle you had to overcome?
The hurdle is still there. Getting respect from financial institutions so that they would consider loaning my small business money.
What motivates you to go into work each day?
I enjoy making people happy and being part of a special community like Coventry Village.
What advice would you give to someone starting a company in Cleveland?
This is a great time to start a business in Cleveland as the pendulum is swinging back. Young adults are moving back, along with transplants who see that Cleveland is a hidden gem.
Can you share a funny or amazing entrepreneurial experience?
My life is a series of amazing and funny stories as I surround myself with wonderful, wacky and creative souls. Every day is an adventure.
Who is your role model and why?
I'd like to tell you one and only one person is my role model. Aside from family members, I'll give you three amazing mentors who have greatly influenced me both in life and in business.
Ted Frankel, my dear friend who owned a small store in Chicago named Goodies. The first time I walked in there I thought I was in heaven. Ted helped me open -- and even name -- Big Fun. He continues to be a strong presence in my life.
Tommy Fello. What can you say about the most unselfish person that I know? He runs his life and business in a Zen-like manner. I look up to Tommy as a big brother, father and a person that embraces life and work as one. Okay, I idolize him.
Steve Israel is a customer who became a dear friend and the most creative person that I have ever met. Ideas that others could only imagine become reality with Steve. He lives far from Cleveland, but he's always only a phone call away.
What do you always keep your eye out for?
In the vintage area, I'm always looking for cool, old toys. We buy a single piece or entire collections.
How has your company grown over the years?
We added another store on the west side of Cleveland in May, 2009 and started a blog
. I want to really develop our online presence. As for new items, I'm constantly searching for unique affordable gifts for my customers.