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Jacksonville Man owns iconic home, turns into thriving business

christmas house bannerFamilies everywhere enjoy the classic movie A Christmas Story, particularly as cable television channels air it repeatedly as the holiday draws near. But the 1983 film carries a bit more significance for Brian Jones and his family in Jacksonville.

“I say, ‘That’s my house,’” said Jones, who owns the Cleveland house that was used in the filming of the movie.

In fact, Jones has turned A Christmas Story House & Museum into a thriving business, beginning with little more than a chance opportunity to acquire the house and a vague notion of “build it and they will come.”

homepagehouseIn less than 10 years the business has expanded from just providing tours of the home to operating the home, as well as a museum, and a recently opened gift shop in neighboring houses. The company has also moved into e-commerce, largely selling gifts and collectibles based upon A Christmas Story and Christmas Vacation, another holiday film from the 1980s.

”The business continues to grow so we keep having to add on more people for more tasks and more fun stuff,” said Jones, noting that the company now has almost 50 employees.

Jones, 37, jokes that he never dreamed of owning “a tourist trap” and selling plastic figurines when he was a kid, but his success is more than happenstance. “You keep pushing at it and plugging away until something happens,” he explained.

Jones grew up wanting to be a Navy pilot like his father. Though he enlisted in the Navy, he never became a pilot and in 1999 was reassigned to be an intelligence officer instead.

Knowing how much he had loved watching A Christmas Story growing up, his mother sought to console him by giving him a leg lamp like the one that the father in the film wins as “a major award.” He liked it so much that he started making and selling leg lamps in 2003, as his time in the Navy was drawing to a close.

MountainsofLegsThough he did not have a business background or even know anyone in business, he went into the leg lamp business full-time after leaving the Navy in fall 2004. “Running your own business seemed like the deal so I gave it a shot,” Jones said. “I lost 20 pounds that Christmas season because I was doing it all,” from making the lamps to selling and shipping them, he recalled.

In December 2004 he bought the house, a duplex at the time, “sight unseen” for $150,000, when it was listed for sale on-line. Not sure of what to do with it, at first he considered opening a bed and breakfast. After that, he considered a museum. Once he visited the house, however, he thought it “would be awesome” to recreate the feel that viewers get when watching the film.

So, Jones spent another $250,000 renovating the house so that it resembled the home of the Parkers, the film’s fictional family. Many interior shots had actually been filmed on a soundstage but Jones recreated the look on site, going so far as to install a staircase like the one that the film’s protagonist, Ralphie, famously descends in a pink bunny suit made by his aunt.

“When you come to the house you can relive the movie,” Jones said. “It feels like you’re in Ralphie’s house.”
He opened the house to the public the day after Thanksgiving in 2006. The grand opening drew 5,000 visitors.
“It was great,” Jones said. “Basically, in the first season we paid for the house and renovations.”

A Christmas House & Museum has since gone on to draw 40,000 to 50,000 visitors a year. Admission costs $10 for adults, $8 for seniors, and $6 for children ages 6 to 12. Tours are “totally interactive.” Visitors can even crawl under the kitchen sink like Ralphie’s younger brother. They also can see movie props and other memorabilia at the museum.

Foot traffic only accounts for part of the company’s revenue, though. A Christmas House & Museum sells ¬– and often makes – products like t-shirts through licensing agreements directly with Warner Bros., which made the film, or with other licensees.

Securing Warner Bros.’ initial support was challenging but the studio has since become an important supporter. It featured A Christmas Story House & Museum on the 30th anniversary DVD of the film and promotes the house.

Jones happily promotes the film in return. “It’s obviously great for your movie if there’s a tourist attraction from the filming location,” he said.

The 30th anniversary of the film’s 1983 release has been a boon, generating national media coverage and interest. The house has benefited from a wave of commemorative events as well, such as a convention that was held in a Downtown Cleveland hotel.
Jones also agreed to use the house as the finish line for the first A Christmas Story Run, which drew 7,000 runners. “It was a ginormous madhouse.”

The run was indicative of Jones’s willingness to explore any idea, like he did in the past when someone suggested selling moose mugs like those that characters Clark Griswold and Cousin Eddie drink from in a scene in Christmas Vacation. The mugs have become a top seller.

“I’m always open to trying stuff,” Jones said. “But you don’t want to overextend yourself.”
Jones recommends exploring opportunities cautiously, as he has been stuck with thousands of limited edition ornaments that he has not been able to sell. “Don’t go overboard and go full force into something.”

This year’s inaugural run exemplified Jones’s philosophy. Someone brought the idea to him and he listened, guessing that they might draw 1,000 runners, well under the eventual turnout. ”We could have had more but the city cut us off because our permit was only for 5,000.”

Proceeds from the run benefited A Christmas Story House Neighborhood Restoration Project, a non-profit foundation that provides grants to projects that enhance and preserve the surrounding Tremont neighborhood, a working-class community near Downtown Cleveland.

”The house is a piece of Americana,” Jones said. “You want it to stay preserved for future generations. If only the house was preserved, it just wouldn’t be right.”

Perhaps then, his Cleveland neighbors also could say, “There’s our house,” when they watch A Christmas Story.

 

Go East, Young Man

Brian Jones grew up in California, loved California, and would have lived in California forever ­– if it weren’t for the state’s taxes.

“The state of California has lost their mind,” said Jones, who moved from there to Jacksonville in June of 2013 to escape the 13.3 percent state-tax rate that he was paying on his business, A Christmas Story House, Inc.

“13.3 percent is just lunacy,” said Jones. “I couldn’t do it anymore.”

The business is based in Cleveland, Ohio, but taxes flow to Jones as its owner. “I can live in Jacksonville free, compared to what I was paying in California,” he said.

Jones chose Jacksonville after narrowing the list of states without personal income taxes to Florida and Texas. Navy friends who were stationed in Jacksonville spoke highly of it, so he moved his family.

Though he spends much of his time at home with his wife, two young daughters, two dogs, and cat, he often travels to Cleveland, particularly during the holidays when his business is busiest.

This year, he traveled to Cleveland during Thanksgiving week for a convention commemorating the 30th anniversary of the movie A Christmas Story. He also spent two weeks in December in Cleveland.

“I have good people who run the business,” Jones said.

He has considered basing the company in Jacksonville instead, but his employees are from Cleveland and want to stay in their hometown.

As someone who essentially was driven from the state he loves, Jones appreciates their loyalty. So, he is content leaving the business in Cleveland and enjoying life in Jacksonville, particularly at tax time.

JimMolisBy Jim Molis

Jim Molis is a contributing editor for Advantage Business Magazine

 

 

 


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