ad courtesy Memphis Press-Scimitar
Flipping through the pages of the Memphis Press-Scimitar on a Friday afternoon in 1939, readers were probably surprised at the headline they encountered here: "Let's Do Some Kissing, Let's Do Some Loving, Let's Go See Keedoozle."
What they'd encountered was a full-page ad for the brand-new Keedoozle store that Clarence Saunders was opening at Third and Jefferson.
Saunders, as I hope you know, gets credit for inventing America's first self-service grocery store, when he opened Piggly Wiggly in 1916. He eventually lost his shirt in that business (thanks to a complicated stock-market mess), but years later, he tried again with a high-tech venture: a fully automated store. Customers didn't push carts, or lug groceries around. They just wandered the aisles, examined the products arranged neatly in glass cases, and then with the push of a special key — hence the store name, meaning "Key Does All" — they bought their groceries and picked them up at the front counter.
To promote this new venture, Saunders — as flamboyant a showman as P.T. Barnum — resorted to all sorts of gimmicks and promotions. One of them was truly bizarre newspaper advertising. What you see here is just the headline. Here's the rest of the ad below. Or most of it. I think you'll get the gist of it:
"For it's time for love and kisses when there is to happen the most time glorious time of one's life. If in one is a heart, let it beat faster. If in one is love, let it be a fire that burns.
"We shall kiss, we shall love, for the new KEEDOOZLE which opens tomorrow, Saturday, will so startle the world that he who is dumb will speak, and he who is deaf will hear.
"Fresh as the dew of a Spring morn, that is KEEDOOZLE. Beautiful beyond all imagination, that is KEEDOOZLE. If you don't feel like loving and kissing before, you most assuredly will after you see KEEDOOZLE, for it it so dazzles with its beauty that even the stars will blink to behold such brilliance on earth."
Right about here I should remind you that ole Clarence is talking about a grocery store. Okay, let us continue:
"Now, if you are an old dud, stay away from KEEDOOZLE, for we want none in whose soul no smile can bother the happiness of others. Stay with your moth-bitten mind and let the bats rustle through your head while others, who can smile and enjoy living, come to the KEEDOOZLE party.
"All you of spirit, of understanding, are cordially invited to come and be one of us and the many who will celebrate by their presence this coming-out party of KEEDOOZLE. A KEEDOOZLE this time, if you please, that no one will criticize except those who have cobwebby brains and already have been invited to stay away, but, of course, won't.
"From Boston and New York by airplance, from Chicago, St. Louis and other points, notables of much more than consequence than some in Memphis, who won't come, will come, so if you don't, nobody will miss anything except yourselves.
"Many have told me that Memphis is too small, too village-minded, to appreciate KEEDOOZLE, that this newest KEEDOOZLE should be right now in New York as part of Broadway's sights to intrigue those who come there open-mouthed to see and gasp with amazement as they look at things different from back home, but to all I have said, Memphis is my home, and whether what I do is appreciated or not, because I appear to be local talent, just the same Memphis shall be the birthplace of KEEDOOZLE, and you see it is. Those who do not now accclaim will be mighty proud away from home to brag and say, oh yes, Clarence is so and so and such a good griend, maybe, not hardly speaking to me at Memphis, or else I don't speak to them.
Again, I remind you that this is, indeed, an ad for a grocery store. Still with me? Okay, back to it:
"Aside from all the above, Clarence is just as crazy as ever to see how cheap he can sell everything, first to please the great public who, after all, are more to be desired and whose hearts are top-high, whether their hats are or not, and those thousands who have always been my friends I would not swap for a million of the so-called high-hat class. Now let me except some and possibly many of the latter class whose friendship I value highly and who have been true friends of mine.
Uh, Clarence, you seem to be wandering off-track here. Bring it on home, will you:
"We started to talk about love and kisses and here I am eating a sour persimmon. Shame on me for doing such a thing. I'll straighten out my mouth and commence all over again, and if those who don't like me will appear to do so, I'll put on the same show toward them. So you see, after all I am not trying to be mean. I simply had to get a few things off my chest so that there would be more room for love and to make it easier for me to kiss in forgiveness.
"Those who want to know more KEEDOOZLE will have to come and see for themselves, for I won't tell them another word about KEEDOOZLE today. And no stock for sale, thank you."
No, Clarence. Thank YOU, for some of the most entertaining and bizarre grocery store advertising Memphis had ever seen.
After all this, was KEEDOOZLE a success? Well, uh, not really. The machinery kept breaking down, and it turned out customers wanted to see and hold the actual items — especially when it was stuff like meat and fruit — they were purchasing. But that never stopped Clarence from trying to improve it, year after year.