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The Christmas Story House Brings Visitors, But Also Improvements

Today is considered by many as the start of the Christmas season. One of the most popular holiday attractions in Cleveland is the house used for filming the 1983 movie, “A Christmas Story.” But what’s the house’s impact been on the neighborhood?

Michelle Albert is giving a tour of 3159 W. 11th Street in Cleveland. That’s the house where “A Christmas Story” was filmed. The producers probably didn’t expect that 35 years later, the living room of the house would be packed with fans of the movie.

“It did pretty poor at the box office. We blame two reasons why: lack of advertisement, and pushing it into the theater [in] early November, before the true holiday season.”

From flop to industry
Since 1983, the film has grown from box office flop to cult classic to now a cottage industry on one street in Cleveland’s Tremont neighborhood. In the gift shop, you can buy your own leg lamp and bunny suit like the ones in the movie. A local donut shop sells Christmas Story-themed donuts. There’s even a Lego set of the Christmas Story house in the works.

A house across the street from the Christmas Story house has been converted into a museum. Steven Intermill is the curator.

“Every year I see the neighbors getting a little more invested in the Christmas Story house. And, of course, we invest in the neighborhood. Really a fun neighborhood to be in here. It’s really great to see this part of Tremont really coming back. Very working class. Very Cleveland west side.”

Saving the house
Most of the homes on this street were built around the turn of the last century and housed steelworkers and their families for decades. But by the turn of this century, “[in] 2004, this was a neighborhood, to be honest, you did not venture into. It was crime-ridden.”

Gary Holden is an occasional tour guide at the house.

“That house was about a month from being condemned and torn down. It was completely gutted, down to the stud walls: no copper, no wiring.”

But entrepreneur Brian Jones – a fan of the film – bought the home and refurbished it, opening it up for tours in 2006. He now owns about a half dozen properties along the street, and has set up a neighborhood fund for other houses on the block. The funds come from about $100,000 generated annually by a 5k and 10k run on the first Saturday in December, and Holden enjoys seeing people cross the finish line in front of the museum.

“And let me tell you – you’ve missed out until you’ve witnessed a thousand bunny suits running down this street.”

In the past year, the neighborhood fund has helped homeowners along this stretch of West 11th Street build a handicap ramp, rebuild seven porches and install 87 new windows. Two doors down from the Christmas Story House, Evgeny Garanin has been renting out his house for the last seven years. He says thanks to the work he’s put in with support from the fund, the property is today worth about double what he paid.

“They helped me with landscaping. They basically put [a] new roof for me. Which is [a] very big help. It’s good for everyone. I’d like to make it a little nicer, and I’m looking to make more money because that’s why I’m in this business.”

He’s actually converting the top floor into an Airbnb.

Staying overnight
Meanwhile, the team running the Christmas Story House has bought another house on the block and have started renting it to overnight guests. Anybody looking for a bite to eat in the immediate area is encouraged to go to the Rowley Inn at the corner. It opened in 1906, and has been owned for about two years by Jon Oberman, who agrees that the neighborhood continues to improve thanks to the Christmas Story House.

“Back in the day it was a shot-and-a-beer place. A place for the third-shifters’ to get off and come have a drink. Or go have a drink before they go on. We’ve done a lot to the place since I’ve purchased it. We’ve made it a little more aesthetically pleasing. It used to be 1960s-era wood paneling in here, vinyl floors, drop ceiling. The demographic has definitely changed. Even our third-shifters are now more first responders and the like. So we get a lot of policemen, firemen, nurses and EMTs.”

Oberman says he’s also added other menu items for people who are only visiting for the day.

“We just added a meatloaf [and] put a challenge on there: if you eat like Randy did -- without utensils, from the movie -- you get a free shirt.”

Oberman says he’s adding staff to handle the annual influx of visitors during the holidays.

Last year, 97,000 people toured the house – half of them in the run-up to Christmas.



Kabir Bhatia is a senior reporter for Ideastream Public Media's arts & culture team.