by Dan Holland
“PEZ heads” from all over the world descended on the Holiday Inn Cleveland-S Independence on Rockside Road July 19-22 for PEZamania 2023, billed as the world’s largest and longest-running PEZ convention. More than 450 participants registered for the four-day event, which has been held at the same venue for the past 16 years. A free public show held July 22 welcomed around 1,000 visitors.
The word “PEZ” is derived from three letters contained within the German word for peppermint – “pfefferminz.” The collections, however, are mainly centered around the colorful plastic dispensers, similar in shape to a cigarette lighter, that dispense the small hard-pressed mints.
The first installment of PEZamania – originally called Dispens-O-Rama – was held in Mentor, Ohio, in June 1991. This year’s hosts, Landon Proctor and Morgan Rinehart, took the helm for the first time.
“PEZamania is a four-day event where people from all over the world gather to not only talk about PEZ, buy PEZ and sell PEZ, but it’s also an opportunity to see old friends, make new friends and play PEZ-related games and win prizes,” said Proctor.
PEZamania, which is a 501(c)(3) organization, raises money each year for Gliding Stars of Greater Toledo – an adaptive ice-skating program for individuals with disabilities. The group also established a college scholarship fund in 2022 through its virtual conventions – initiated during the COVID-19 pandemic – with 29 recipients sharing in a total of $24,000 in scholarship awards to date.
The event includes more than 50 dealers from around the country. Registered guests of the convention leave their hotel room doors open with PEZ collections on display for purchase and viewing.
But the event is more about visiting with friends and meeting new people, explained Rinehart.
“For some, it’s a nostalgia for PEZ from when they were young; plus, it’s a very accessible hobby to get into,” said Rinehart, who lives near State College, Pennsylvania. “But it’s really about the people; we have attendees who no longer collect but still come to the conventions because it’s become like one big family.”
Each year’s convention has a different theme, and this year was a country hoedown, featuring a performance from a live bluegrass band. Next year will be the “PEZlympics.”
“We provide a lot of the attractions for PEZamania throughout the week,” said Proctor, who lives in New Orleans. “We play games in which people can win vintage PEZ dispensers and other cool prizes.”
Dealer John Devlin, known as “The Cool PEZ Man” and friend Erin Panda traveled from St. Louis to set up their collection at this year’s convention.
“My goal is to get more people into collecting and keep the hobby going, especially among young people,” said Panda.
Patrick Reed, of Manchester, Connecticut, attended with children Kerri and Kaiden. “This is our second convention and first time at PEZamania,” he said. “Kerri is the collector; I enjoy a lot of the PEZ collections and some of the candy. The conventions are a lot of fun.”
Ben and Amy Falconer, of Medina, decided to attend with daughters Coraline and Chloe after seeing the event mentioned on local news channels. “I’m the PEZ head; I have a collection,” said Amy. “We came a few years ago, and we decided to pick up and come out.”
Bill Grap, of Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, attended the full four-night convention along with children Avery and Evan. “I’ve been collecting PEZ since the late ’90s, and now the kids are into it, too,” he explained. “We came out to look for pieces to add to the collection. We were involved in the PEZ games for the kids, just hanging out at the hotel.”
Planning for the following year’s convention begins about one month prior to the current one.
“We even have some ideas already for 2025,” said Rinehart.
Proctor said he is appreciative of the community support. “Everyone knows to come to Cleveland; the mecca for the greatest PEZ convention in the world,” he said. “The local businesses and community are very supportive; they embrace us each year and look forward to us being here. We’re carving out our own little place in Independence, and we’re happy to be here and hope to be here for the foreseeable future.” ∞
On our cover (Photos): This year’s PEZamania convention took place at the Holiday Inn Cleveland-S Independence on Rockside Road. Landon Proctor and Morgan Rinehart were the hosts of this year’s event, which raises funds for nonprofits. Photos by Dan Holland.