Steve Presser leads life filled with toys, art and community
Standing next to a seven-and-a-half-foot-long G.I. Joe aircraft carrier, flanked by a few dozen action figures, jets and hovercrafts, Steve Presser is a man who has found his calling.
Since leaving his job as a stockbroker 24 years ago and opening Big Fun, a toy store in the artsy Coventry Village neighborhood of Cleveland Heights, Presser, 57, has become a vocal business leader, community coordinator and activist for the arts.
Reflecting on how his life has changed since his days of selling commodities, Presser said, “Now my commodities are fake dog-doo and throw-up, and lots of collectible toys.”
Wearing a bowling shirt and sporting short gray hair and a soul patch, Presser walked into Tommy’s restaurant, a vegan-friendly diner a few doors down from his store. A Tommy’s staff member greeted him by name while Presser turned to acknowledge a family of four sitting nearby, whom he knows from the neighborhood.
As a child growing up in University Heights, Presser developed an enduring love of toys. “I grew up in the greatest era of toys and TV—the 1960s—so there were TV shows, and toy products were manufactured for [them],” said Presser. “My generation was . . . ‘The Addams Family’, ‘Lost in Space’, ‘Batman.’”
As an adult, Presser started collecting rare toys, but saw it only as a hobby. Then, one day in 1982, Presser's life changed forever. While in Chicago with his future wife, Debbie, fate led him to a store called Goodies. Presser was blown away. “If you ever saw ‘The Wizard of Oz’ . . . the first time . . . it goes from black-and-white to color, that was what I felt,” he said.
After graduating from the University of Michigan with a Bachelor of Science in psychology, Presser returned to Cleveland to pursue his career as a stockbroker, but he was never able to shake that first experience at Goodies. Presser began visiting Goodies several times a year, befriending the store’s owner, Ted Frankel. “He’s been one of my best friends and truly one of my greatest mentors,” said Presser.
After working for seven years at Paine Webber in Beachwood, and with Frankel’s encouragement, Presser decided it was time to move on from dealing stocks.
“It just wasn’t me. I’m a very giving person,” he said. “There was just this pressure of making money and working hard and selling and buying. I just didn’t enjoy it.”
On April 1, 1991, Presser opened the original Big Fun, located across the street from its current location, on Coventry Road. Since then, he has become a vital member of the local community, sitting on several nonprofit boards and promoting Coventry Village as a place for businesses and families alike.
Presser is a founding member of the Coventry Village Special Improvement District and a founding board member of Heights Arts, an organization dedicated to promoting the arts through education, exhibitions and performances.
His love of music, the arts and the outdoors has influenced his involvement in his community. “I was heavily involved with the Coventry Street Fair,” said Presser. “I started the music series here, I started the movie series, I started the drum circle, I started the yoga. These are things that are really important.”
On top of helping to build a strong community, Presser does what he can to help other local businesses. “When we did our midnight release party for Harry Potter number seven, we had planned all these activities, and Steve just jumped right in to help us,” said Suzanne DeGaetano, owner of Mac’s Backs bookstore on Coventry Road. “He found the Harry Potter round glasses, and he got those for us so that we could give them out that night.”
Despite becoming one of the most active and recognizable personalities in Coventry Village, Presser only recently realized the true motivator behind what drives him. “For years, people used to ask me what I do. I used to say, ‘I own this cool toy store,’” he said. “About nine months ago, I finally realized what I do—make people happy. That’s what I do—make people happy. And I’m good at that.”
Christopher Tysh is a 35-year-old mobile app developer. He lives in Cleveland Heights with his fiancée, Ashley, and their dog, Oscar.