CLEVELAND — A popular Northeast Ohio attraction is set to reopen this weekend as Memphis Kiddie Park will celebrate its 70th birthday.
Opened in 1952, the park is a treasured landmark filled with rides just for kids, concession stands, an arcade and a mini-golf course.
“It's just a different experience for the little ones. They come here and they're just not intimidated by anything. It's like they own the place,” said owner Russell Whitner.
Whitner’s father, Stuart, opened Kiddie Park 70 years ago. When the anniversary rolls around on May 28, Whitner and the park will share something in common.
“I consider Kiddie Park, my little brother, and it really is like a sibling to me. The Kiddie Park and I were born on the same day,” Whitner said.
Since then, he’s watched generations of families return to Kiddie Park year after year. Whether it’s the miniature golf course, the carousel or the Little Dipper, there’s something for everyone at Kiddie Park.
“I'll walk up, and they’ll say, ‘thank you very much for today.’ And I ask, ‘shouldn’t I be thanking you for coming?’ "They’ll say ‘No, you don't understand. I came here when I was a little kid. I brought my children here, and now I'm bringing my grandchildren here.”
Memphis Kiddie Park features 11 rides, including the Little Dipper, which has been recognized as the oldest continuously operating steel kiddie coaster in North America. However, despite the recognition, there’s something else that sets this park apart.
“One of the things that has killed a lot of small parks like this is it's really easy to get tempted to put in a big Ferris wheel or a giant slide,” Whitner said. “Once you do that, you're inviting older kids, teenagers and the whole the environment just changes.”
Like most businesses throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, it’s been a struggle to find workers to keep Memphis Kiddie Park open. When Whitner reopened the park last summer, he wasn’t sure what the reception would be like.
“I think the thing that stands out in my memory last year was biting fingernails all winter, wondering if we opened and if we do welcome them or anybody come,” he said. “We were packed every day. I mean, it was just unbelievable.”
This season, construction along the Memphis Avenue bridge poses a new challenge for welcoming back customers. Despite the obstacles, Whitner said it’s the charm of the park that keeps families returning each year.
“We're not a carnival. We don't have the big splashy stuff. We are just a kid park and we're consistent,” he said. “I like to call ourselves the training wheels for Cedar Point. You get to the point where you're eight years old and you're ready to go to the big park.”
Memphis Kiddie Park opens on Saturday, May 21. The hours will be from 10 a.m.- 2 p.m. Monday through Friday and 10 a.m. - 2 p.m. on weekends.
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