Ten years ago, San Diego entrepreneur Brian Jones bought a ramshackle house in Cleveland.
But don’t write this off as your standard fixer-upper yarn, as that rickety heap was used in the filming of the 1983 holiday classic “A Christmas Story.” You know, the one with little Ralphie wishing for a Red Ryder BB Gun, but forever warned he’ll “shoot his eye out.”
Jones took a brave shot himself at saving the house, which he has turned into one of Cleveland’s biggest tourist attractions.
Coming in from the cold, the day’s first tour — about 20 people — squeeze into “A Christmas Story” House. They’re greeted by tour guide Jeff Woodard.
“Come on in, welcome to Ralphie and Randy’s,” he says with a smile.
The visitors play with a Red Ryder BB gun or pose with the infamous leg lamp by the window. There are also elf hats and other novelty head wear, though the “pink nightmare” bunny pajamas are across the street in the gift shop.
Woodard explains how this house was used during filming of “A Christmas Story” in 1983.
“Basic rule of thumb is, if you can see a shot through a window or through a doorway into outdoor ambient light, that shot was filmed in this house,” he says.
But after filming wrapped up, 3159 West 11th St. became just another address in hardscrabble Cleveland. Nature, via economic downturn, took its course.
Then in 2004, Jones – a fan of the movie who had also launched a thriving leg lamp enterprise the year before – learned that the home was listed on eBay for $99,000.
“Never mind that the houses in this area are $25,000 and $30,000 homes,” says Woodard. Jones “doesn’t know that, he doesn’t care. He calls the two brothers who own the house, and he says, ‘Make you a deal. You take this off of eBay today, I will write you a check for $150,000.’”
The visitors gasp.
Flash forward to today. Jones, who lives in Florida now but drops in now and then on business, reflects on the time and money spent restoring the house to its cinematic grandeur, inside and outside.
“You’re looking at about one and a half million dollars invested over the past decade,” says Jones.
The house now sees visitors from all over the world.
“There was guy from South Africa,” says Jones. “He was crawling under the sink, just like Randy: ‘Daddy’s gonna kill Ralphie.'”
And last year, Jones launched the A Christmas Story House Foundation, which helps fix up other homes in the immediate neighborhood. Last year it raised $60,000.
Rich Weiss was a beneficiary. He applied for funding and got approved this past year. “A completely painted house exterior, and a completely replaced porch, that isn’t inexpensive,” Weiss says.
While the operators of “A Christmas Story” House and Museum wouldn’t disclose annual revenues, it’s safe to say, with most of its 50,000 annual visitors paying the $10 adult admission, its profits are cozier than a set of pink bunny pajamas.
CORRECTION: An earlier version of this story misspelled the name of Jeff Woodard. The text has been corrected.