Peanut Shop owner: Killing Mr. Peanut after 104 years is like offing Mickey Mouse
The Peanut Shop in Lansing originated as a Planters Peanuts store, one of a few still operating
LANSING – The death of Mr. Peanut, the 104-year-old mascot for Planters Peanuts, has Tammy Melser shaking her head.
Why would a company kill off such a beloved and well-recognized logo? she asked.
“That’s like dying off Mickey Mouse,” she said.
Melser, of Holt, is the owner of The Peanut Shop in downtown Lansing, one of the last remaining shops in the country that originated as a Planters Peanuts shop.
Kraft Heinz, the owner of Planters Peanuts, announced last week that Mr. Peanut would die a hero’s death during a tongue-in-cheek Super Bowl commercial. There would even be a funeral aired during the Sunday game.
But the ads were postponed after the death of basketball legend Kobe Bryant, his daughter and seven others in a helicopter crash that too closely resembled Mr. Peanut’s fall to death over a cliff, ending in a fiery crash
The butt of nutty jokes
Killing off Mr. Peanut, making him the butt of so many nutty jokes — Saturday Night Live said he was "creamated" — is a head-scratcher. Postponing after the terrible news of Bryant’s death makes sense.
Planters Peanuts opened hundreds of stores around the country in the 1930s and 1940s. The Lansing location at 117 S. Washington Square opened in 1938. Michigan also had stores in Saginaw and Grand Rapids that are now gone.
The stores were adorned with images and statues of Mr. Peanut, who eschews clothes but always has a top hat, spats, cane and a monocle.
During the Great Depression, the late Floyd Melser, Tammy’s father, went to work at a South Bend, Indiana, Planters Peanuts store at the age of 15, wearing a Mr. Peanut costume.
He worked his way up to manage the Akron, Ohio, store. During World War II, he did a stint in the Navy aboard the USS Tangier. After the war, he went back to Akron for a time before being assigned to manage the Lansing store around 1948.
There he met and married Peggy Coleman who worked at the store.
The Melsers bought the store in 1961 when Planters Peanuts was sold to Standard Brands, which closed the retail outlets.
Tammy Melser said her parents had to agree to give up the Mr. Peanut items at the store in order to turn it into a independent shop.
“They didn’t want you making money off the name,” she said.
That included smashing the large 3-D Mr. Peanut who rode on top of the store’s roaster.
Mr. Peanut on the roaster
Another Mr. Peanut was purchased from the South Bend store when it closed in the late ‘60s, Melser said. She said the story goes that the owner saved the Mr. Peanut by hiding it during the transition from Planters Peanuts shop to a private one.
The South Bend Mr. Peanut is the familiar figure you see in the Lansing shop today. Melser said he’s constructed from paper mache or plaster of Paris. A sign warns not to video or photograph Mr. Peanut after the corporation warned them about using the image on a website created by a customer.
The shop is tiny. Customers squeeze in between two roasters and glass cases filled with a variety of nuts and candies. But Melser said it's still viable all these years later. She and her sister, Glenda Osterhouse of Eaton Rapids, who has since retired, bought it from her parents in 1995.
The stop has remained unchanged over the decades. The peanut wallpaper is from the ‘50s. It mimics vertical strings of real peanuts that used to adorn the shop’s wall. The glass cases are original. An ancient Planters Peanuts clock still ticks.
Melser said nostalgia appeals to older customers and even some younger ones, who find it cool.
Her father always said “don’t stray too far from the model that Planters set up.” She still roasts fresh peanuts in the shell each morning.
Few stores left
The Lansing store is one of a dwindling number of former Planters Peanuts storesstill in existence, according to RoadsideArchitecture.com, a website that tracks mid-century modern buildings from the 1920s to the 1970s.
“Of the hundreds of Planters shops that existed, only about 15 survive as independent stores. So, the Lansing store is very important in my opinion,” Debra Jane Seltzer, the Ventura, California, creator of the website, said in an email.
"Many of the stores still have their original roasting machines and decorate their shop with Planters collectibles. The smell of fresh roasted peanuts and the display cases filled with bins of chocolates and nuts make these stores a unique and profound experience.”
Mr. Peanut is also a sought-after collectible. Board members of Peanut Pals, a collectors’ club, are upset about the demise of their beloved mascot, said Bill Osey of Utica, Michigan.
"No other peanut in the world has that same charisma, charm, nor loyalty!" the group eulogized on its website.
“If they were going to get rid of the icon, I would think there would be better way to do it,” Osey said.
He said the group, which has about 300 members around the country, held its 1997 convention in Lansing in honor of the Melser family's longevity.
Melser wonders if there isn't a trick up the corporate sleeve. Could Mr. Peanut return, reincarnated into a new modern symbol?
She and other Mr. Peanut lovers are holding their breath.
Related: Former Peanut Shop owner dies at 91
Judy Putnam is a columnist with the Lansing State Journal. Contact her at (517) 267-1304 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.Follow her on Twitter @judyputnam.
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