CHAGRIN FALLS — It has been in the sights of federal sharpshooters, nearly pushed over the falls by a runaway truck and weathered economic hard times more than once, but the Popcorn Shop has survived and is now celebrating its 70th year in business.
And that is only in the modern era.
The little clapboard building dates to 1875 as a retail shop for the “Pride of the Falls” flour mill which “used timeless and environmentally sound water wheel technology,” according to the present proprietor Dewey Forward.
It had been a barber shop for years until 1949 when Dorothy McClennan opened her Antique and Popcorn Shop.
Mr. Forward noted that eventually the ice cream and popcorn sales grew, the antiques moved on and the tiny store became just The Chagrin Falls Popcorn Shop. It was destined to become symbolic of Chagrin Falls itself.
He took over the shop in 2000 along with George Richards as his “silent” partner. He reflects on the past 19 years this way.
“The town loved this place before I got it, so I feel more like the trustee of a beloved town treasure,” Mr. Forward said. “We’ve tried to keep the love flowing both to and from the Popcorn Shop.”
The love flow was interrupted in 2000 when a truck lost its brakes as it came down Bell Street, crossed North Main and crashed into the shop causing major damage to the structure. It was so bad and became so unsafe, there was serious thought given to having it demolished.
History won out when Mr. Forward and Mr. Richards partnered with then owner Mort McClennan, Dorothy McClennan’s son, and found a way to restore the building.
With safety concerns addressed, the village approved the plans and work began. Chagrin Falls got its icon back in one piece when the Popcorn Shop reopened in 2001.
The visitors and residents returned as well. Mr. Forward used the word “flourished” to describe what has happened at the Chagrin Falls Popcorn Shop since then.
“In 2004, we were visited by President George and Laura Bush and daughters Barbara and Jenna,” he said, as explanation for why sharpshooters took aim at the shop from the roof of the hardware store across the street.
Other famous customers have included sports announcer Jim Nantz, former Cleveland Mayor Dennis Kucinich, TV personality David Letterman “and we were immortalized by (cartoonist) Bill Waterson on the cover of a Calvin and Hobbes (book), too,” he added.
“This has been a total joy in my life having owned it for 19 years now,” Mr. Forward said of being the owner of a landmark. It was the perfect transition from his restaurant and music club days when he was the colorful proprietor of Cleveland’s Peabody’s Downunder and later Pete & Dewey’s.
This year marks the seventh that the shop has been called to service to produce a giant popcorn ball that is dropped from the Triangle Park flagpole at midnight on New Year’s Eve.
The kernelled orb, made fresh each year, has grown each year to the most recent 70 pounds. This year Mr. Forward is eyeing the 100-pound mark and perhaps a Guinness World Record.
In the coming months, the shop will celebrate its birthday with “original price days” and customers can look for red, white and blue popcorn treats to show patriotism and to match the little building’s famous exterior paint scheme.
Mr. Forward added that in its 70th year, the business will expand, and products will be found in Heinen’s and Dave’s food markets, Sweeties Candies, Cleveland Hopkins International Airport, along with the Pro Football Hall of Fame, Inca Tea locations and J. Pistone Market and Gathering Place as well as fairs and festivals throughout Ohio.
“We have just opened in June our Popcorn Shop Kitchen on Munn Road in Auburn Township. It’s 2,000 square feet of a beautiful stainless-steel kitchen popping all of our flavors and able to experiment better and produce more popcorn,” he said.
He credits co-proprietors Mr. Richards and Patti Raymond, a one-time employee-turned Popcorn Shop investor, for the growth of the business beyond the four walls of the shop itself.
So, has Mr. Forward tired of the smell of popcorn? “Every day is a new flavor popping, so not really. The other day it was Pickle Pop, one of our new flavors, and the new kitchen smelled like Corky and Lenny’s,” he said referring to the well-known deli in Woodmere.
“And with the shipping of our popcorn tins and gift baskets worldwide, we have further expanded the reach of our small but mighty Chagrin Falls Popcorn Shop,” Mr. Forward said.