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Have you checked out Uranus? It's growing

Valerie Schremp Hahn, St. Louis Post-Dispatch on

Published in Travel News

He hasn't put a box of luminescent rocks in Uranus ("I'll put it on my list!"), but he has brought in a unicorn skull, an alligator boy and a taxidermic two-headed goat.

"I've been looking for a two-headed goat for 15 years," he says, motioning toward its display case in the fudge factory.

Keen went to military school because he was "a little guy and I don't think like anyone else," and he's 16 hours short of a college degree.

He eventually opened a strip club, thinking it would be fun to get into the business so he could drink. But he realized he couldn't do that and run a business.

The strip club has since moved to Uranus, and it opens late -- families usually don't notice it, Keen says. He doesn't drink much anymore but still smokes, and says his best business meetings are conducted on smoke breaks.

He doesn't have an office, and he won't take a business card because he says he'll lose it.

"My motto this year is 'exceptional mediocrity,' " he says. "If you do something, it might be an A-minus or a B-plus. If I'm fighting so hard to get A's, sometimes I don't get things done. I think we've been succeeding."

About 70 people work in Uranus, as employees or contractors. Brian Garbinski is a retired Army sergeant major who served as a senior adviser to the Afghan National Civil Order Police. He's now the unofficial deputy mayor of Uranus.

"Louie is fun. Louie speaks his mind," says Garbinski, also a business partner and firearms instructor at the range. "He's not really politically correct. Some people get offended by him. But they know it's true."

Steve Farris works as a DJ for Keen and works part time as an emergency medical technician for Pulaski County. He had trouble getting his archery range business going out of his home. Keen offered to partner with him on it and let him build a range in Uranus. Farris appreciates Keen's advice and advertising help.

"It's something to bring families out," Farris says. "There's just nothing for kids to do here."

Lindsay Teal, the marketing manager for Uranus, has expanded its online store and landed a deal where area hotels give VIP visitors fudge from Uranus. Teal manages Uranus' social media sites and deletes visitor jokes if they get too offensive.

The most offended anyone really got, they said, was a woman who emailed them, insisting they were mispronouncing Uranus. Scientists and astrophysicists often say it the other way.

People like to push the envelope, she says, and any selfie snapped in Uranus is free advertising. Rapper Sir Mix-A-Lot tweeted about Uranus. So did actor George Takei. "Their fudge is out of this world!" he wrote.

And if people get offended by the billboards? They don't have to stop in Uranus.

"Someone just taught me a great lesson how to be successful -- that's mind your own business," Keen says.

Shelley and Frank Mesa from Rancho Cucamonga, Calif., passed through Uranus after flying into St. Louis and driving to Branson. A woman at an information center recommended it. "She said, 'You'll want to stop in Uranus.' "

"We love the tourist trap places," Shelley Mesa says.

They shook Keen's hand and took a photo with him on the parking lot. ("Is he really the mayor?" she asked after he left.)

Mary Cox of Elk City, Okla., spotted the signs and giggled with her two sisters as they rode together on their way to Indiana. "This is a cute little stop," she said as she stood just outside the factory, clutching a bagful of fudge.

Keen's just happy he made a few more customers happy.

"It's just a man in Uranus," he said as he stood on its parking lot. "That's all it is."

(c)2017 St. Louis Post-Dispatch

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