They don't sell magic mushrooms at Jungle Jim's International Market in Fairfield.

They don't have to.

Just listen to the directions from Debby Hartinger of Jungle Jim's creative services. "The entrance is past the bus shelters and stadium seats, between the animal pond with the giraffe, gorilla and squirting elephants and the garden center. Enter the door under the NASCAR."

It's like Kroger's on steroids "” or maybe acid. The 6-1/2 acre campus on Ohio Rte. 4, a hop off I-275, is 300,000 square feet of Alice in Wonderland merchandising with food from 75 countries, including 12,000 wine labels, 1,200 beer labels, 1,400 different kinds of cheese, 22 specialty shops "” plus cooking classes, wine festivals, hot sauce shows, an event center and a mini-shopping center to boot.

Shoppers, who during one summer week alone were tracked from 42 states, 1,192 zip codes and 10 countries, have to stay focused or a one-hour trip turns into a daylong event. Distractions abound "” menacing sharks and sailfish overhead, a 55-foot mahogany Matthews boat, and tanks of swimming fish (all edible) in the seafood department. Not to mention crooning lions, singing soup cans, talking corn-on-the-cob, giraffes, gorillas, and a giant tree with Robin Hood poised to raid.

"You have to have a sense of humor here because nothing is as it seems," says Hartinger.

Just call him "Jungle"

Evidence is founder Jim Bonaminio known to all as "Jungle."

He has a weakness for outlandish outfits "” safari jackets and lure-laden fishing hats, train engineer overalls and red kerchief, a purple wizard's robe and silver-trimmed cone-shaped topper. He can be found zipping around the grounds on white Honda scooter. He likes to tell tales. ("Sometimes you can't believe a word he says," Hartinger laughs.) He's thrifty beyond your penny-pinching German grandma, loves to salvage and "junk." He swears he gets "an upset stomach when I have to pay full price for something." And he will go to great lengths for a laugh "” evidence the Jungle restrooms, seemingly three Rumpke port-a-potties lined up against an unfinished wall sloppily lettered "men" and "women" to look like a construction site. Unknown to newbies, they are gateways to spacious, well-equipped restrooms behind the wall.

"When we opened the restrooms," says Hartinger, "he stood out there watching people for three weeks to get their reaction. Women would tentatively approach, see the port-a-potty and walk away. Men didn't seem to care. If someone was waiting or hesitating, he'd say "¢go on in' just to see their reaction."

He just wants to have fun.

And fun he continues to have almost 39 years after setting up his first rickety produce stand in Hamilton, sleeping nearby.

Asked about his secret to success, the Miami University business major quips "stay single and your money will jingle." But that's the showman talking. Not the man with a wife and three kids, a good head for business and an unfailing eye for a bargain.

A break in the shtick

Pressed for a serious answer "” no small feat for a man who says he'd "buy a load of girdles if they were cheap enough""” he sighs heavily, maybe a little irritated at all this seriousness interrupting his shtick.

"We constantly strive to hit the high notes and be the best we possibly can in all areas. Never be satisfied, always challenge yourself whether it be creating the cleanest store or the produce with best taste... or putting together the best wine selection. We're constantly trying to improve. Always try to make things better. Always."

The store's website,, might lead you to think that Jungle Jim's recycling of oddball materials into functional retail accoutrements is a nod to the recent "green" movement. But it's not.

You can call it green. Call it recycling. Call it re-use. But to Jungle "it's survival" plain and simple.

"When you start with nothing like I did, you have to find things for free or cheap. I used to go to this place in Hamilton called Zeke's. He'd clean out old boxcars, remove the nails and sell the boards. I'd go to his place and buy 2-by-4s for 15 cents apiece. Only they weren't always exactly 2-by-4s. I built my first stand in Hamilton out of those 2-by-4s. Then they wanted me to a have roof for building code purposes. So I went to the "blue light special store' and bought some of their blue light stands, about 4-by-4, nailed some of Zeke's 2-by-4s up in the air and got some old dented camper roofs from Zeke as tops." You can see them in a black-and-white photo in today's store.

"It's been like that my whole career," he says.

He goes on to explain the physiology of a thrifty brain.

"Your brain is a muscle and when you use it all the time in a certain area, whether it's engineering or science, the brain trains itself," he says. "So when I look at a project my mind is always thinking of the cheapest way to do something. My mind doesn't work right when I have to order from someone. It kills me to waste money."

Proof's in the pudding

The grounds are proof of Jungle's brainpower:

The monorail. Idle for 17 years after its last loop through King's Island's animal park in 1993, the cars sat at the amusement park until Jungle spotted them in 1998 on one of his annual "junking" trips to the amusement park. "Omigod. It was so huge and they'd already sold the tracks. I said, "¢how much?' and they said "¢$20,000' "”with no tracks "” do you believe it?"

He passed it up, and on the way back to the store the architect and electrician who were along for the ride, both said they were relieved he hadn't purchased it. "They said it would have been a nightmare to get going," he says. But when King's Island later called and offered it for $1 he couldn't refuse. Twelve years later, it is refurbished, spic and span, and had a run at the summer Weekend of Fire for folks who love hot sauce.

And it will be running for the International Wine Festival Nov. 12-13 and for special events. The snake house modeled after the Jungle Book snake was built to house it at the back of the gigantic lot. You can't miss it.

"I can't pass things up. I'm bad," he says. "But as you go across America everybody has a pattern of doing things, and nobody wants to break the pattern. They don't know what to do with leftovers. Big companies make big convention displays, spending thousands maybe millions. They use it for several years, and then store it away. I go look at what's stored and pick it up for nothing and make something out of it." One of his favorites is a 50-foot fiberglass sea serpent that rises 154 feet in the air at the back entrance (by the snake house) spotted by an employee at Newport Aquarium. "I can't believe people spend so much money on things and stop using them. It kills me to see things go to waste."

The giant tree hovering over Robin Hood in the English food section came from International Paper Company, which had used it as part of a convention display in Las Vegas.

The candy displays in the snacks and sweets department rest on old bumper cars from Coney Island.

The wine cabinet doors are made from wood delivery boxes with vineyard logos and stamps. The wine library by the entry to the wine cellar is made from bowling alley wood. Look closely and you can see the wooden plugs.

The USS Minnow, the 55-foot yacht in the seafood department is the manager's office. Jungle found it in the water in Fort Lauderdale and paid a guy to fill in with as many nets, anchors, lobster cages and fishing gear as possible and haul it to his property here. "The guy wanted $7,000 for it," says Jungle, "even though it was under 3 feet of water. He said the engines were worth at least half that. I said "¢fine, keep the engines, I'll give you $3,000.'" Turns out it's a mahogany Matthews boat, originally designed by an Ohio company, no longer made but revered for its lines and collected by old salts.

The 40-foot long Metro bus stops are from downtown Cincinnati's remodeling of the transportation hub on Fifth Street. "The glass is an inch thick and they are stainless steel, probably worth about $50,000-$60,000 each," Jungle says. "So I bought "¢em and put two in front of the garden center."

A huge mushroom island was a display case cast-off from Kroger that was refurbished with foam added to the top to mimic a giant mushroom. "Brokers would come in and ask where you get that?" says Jim.

"We pick up castoffs and re-condition them to make neat stuff out of it," he says, thanks to the shop of about five inventive mechanics specializing in fantasy fabrication.

"We don't really know how things work sometimes but they figure it out," says Hartinger. Their handiwork will be featured on "Modern Marvels" Oct. 28 on TV's The History Channel.

The NASCAR at the entryway came from the "Days of Thunder" movie and King's Island ride. There are three of them; one at the entry, one in the shop and the third one is in the warehouse.

The dressing room in the Shasta boutique is anchored in an old claw foot bathtub with a shower curtain surrounding it. The seat inside is from a tractor.

But lest you think Jungle is a pack rat with things stacked willy nilly in the warehouse, think again. "He's very neat," says Hartinger. "He doesn't like clutter and we all have to keep our desks and work areas clean. If you go into the warehouse, everything is in its place."

Elvis the singing lion, from a Chuck E Cheese fun center may be one of Jungle's oldest "junking" buys from about 30 years ago. But the crooner is being kept up to date. Delivered with extra parts, he used to be pneumatic but has been upgraded and computerized. He can be found at the snacks and sweets aisles.

Jungle doesn't always have a plan for what he buys. Sometimes things sit around until someone invents a use for them. He's still trying to figure out what to do with several revolving giant glass domes with mannequins inside "” a man, a woman, a worker. He bought them about 10 years ago but he's not ready to get rid of them yet. They are just resting.

"I'm Frankenstein. I bring things back to life," he says.