What holiday gift do you get the man who already owns the most iconic building in Christmas film history? His first tattoo, apparently.
Brian Jones, who owns the beloved Cleveland house that served as rambunctious Ralphie Parker’s residence in the 1983 feature “A Christmas Story,” is taking this interview inside of a tattoo parlor, meeting with the artist that will engrave his first ink: the iconic fishnet-sporting leg lamp that’s one of the seasonal staple’s most enduring images. It’s an appropriate graphic for Jones, as he began his unique but popular business by first selling replicas of “Story’s” leggy light fixture.
“Lamp lights, lamp cups, mugs, shot glasses — anything leg lamp is the most popular item in the gift shop,” Jones tells Variety, referencing the entrepreneurial venture he began nearly two decades ago. “I officially started the business in 2003. I sold 500 in the first year while still in the Navy, just moonlighting doing it. After I got out, I had them made overseas in China. I got 2,100, which is three shipping containers, for the second year. At the same time, the house comes up for sale on Ebay — a new business, but this is an obvious natural extension.”
But a tattoo is hardly the biggest change on the horizon for Jones. After nearly 20 years of operating the “Christmas Story” home and its accompanying gift shop and museum, he is looking for a new owner. Jones, who primarily lives near Jacksonville, Fla., placed the Cleveland site up for sale on Nov. 14 and is currently fielding offers from prospective buyers that can take over operations.
“I’d wanted to a put this up for sale for quite a number of years. It’s always been part of the plan after getting it up and running,” Jones says. “I’ve tried to tee this up for anybody who wants to take it to the next level. There’s more to do here: a candy store where you can see some grizzly bears, a Santa mountain. I’d love to add a Chinese restaurant and a BB-gun range. We can make it completely immersive for people.”
Jones first bought the house for roughly $100,000 in 2004. After putting about $250,000 into renovations, including configuring an expansive soundstage’s amount of furniture into the living room, he opened the meticulously revamped home for business in 2006, later taking on neighboring properties to expand the venue with a gift shop, a museum and parking lots. Jones even bought adjacent land to prevent the construction of new buildings next to his souvenir abode.
“You have this nice 1940s look and then, right next door, boom! Condos or townhomes? Now that just doesn’t fit,” Jones explains.
The entire campus, a cluster of seven different properties, is now up for sale, though the price tag on the bundle is being kept hush-hush. Jones is carefully screening individuals as “qualified buyers” before signing them to confidentiality agreements. Even so, Jones was quick to shoot down my impromptu offer of $4 million.
“Not even close,” Jones balks. “You don’t even have the money to operate this place annually. Go fish.”
Selling the property is not just about finding a big enough wallet, though. Jones hopes to pass the torch to a buyer who will preserve the business. A new owner might face challenges making any changes even if they wanted to, as the city of Cleveland named the “Christmas Story” home a historic landmark after Jones petitioned for the designation.
“You can’t even change the paint scheme. You can’t add anything to the porches. You can’t do anything without the city’s OK,” Jones says. “Being such a valuable asset to the city, they’re not going to allow anybody else to do that.”
After putting nearly 20 years of work into the property, the search for a new owner is a very careful process for Jones. In late November, reports emerged that former child actor Yano Anaya, who plays Grover in the original film, was on site asking for donations that would go toward purchasing the house. Video was captured of Jones confronting Anaya, shouting at him to leave the business.
“I was concerned about the fans,” Jones explains. “I didn’t want to see them get defrauded out of money. Knowing what the place is going to go for, there was no way that those funds were actually going to be used to purchase the house. I just couldn’t stand to see that happening to fans out there. But I lost my temper. I could have handled it better. It was a stressful time for me.”
But beyond the altercation, Jones shares that he’s had largely positive interactions with the talent behind “A Christmas Story.” In the years following his initial purchase, Jones met with the late director Bob Clark, who was “tickled pink” by his business endeavor.
Jones also shares that he had a level of involvement with the 2012 followup film “A Christmas Story 2,” though he admits “everybody agrees that was a pretty atrocious movie.” While Jones was a fan of this year’s sequel, “A Christmas Story Christmas,” which picks up 33 years after the original and stars a now grown Peter Billingsley, the production team only visited the Cleveland site to take reference notes.
“They actually rebuilt the neighborhood on a backlot set in Bulgaria,” Jones says. “All they wanted to do was scan the neighborhood and house inside and out. I get it. It’s cheaper to film overseas.”
But even without factoring in the complications of a film production, the day-to-day responsibilities of running the business are enough for Jones’ team. The institution has posed its own series of unique challenges over the years, particularly in its careful renovations and expansions.
“There’s always a fire to put out,” Jones says. He’s being literal. “We have had electrical issues in the past. The museum almost caught fire once.”
Running the “Christmas Story” home is a delicate affair, one that Jones isn’t prepared to hand off to just anyone. While the owner wasn’t open about details on the “interested parties” he’s been in contact with, Jones has figured out one potential caretaker that could keep the momentum going: himself.
“It might be me, if it doesn’t sell. Either way, I expect a bright future for the house,” Jones says. “It’s an awesome place. If there’s an opportunity to do something else in life, I’m going to try and do that. If it doesn’t work out, I’m still in a great spot owning this business and being able to continue to run it.”