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So Long, Low Price

Marc Munroe Dion on

His name was Leonard Kaplan, and he died a week ago at the age of 91 in Alpharetta, Georgia, far from the place where he was famous as "Low Price Lenny." That place is the Massachusetts former mill town where I live.

He owned stores that sold army surplus of the odd-smelling, fold-up cot variety, as well as sporting goods and trophies.

He nicknamed himself "Low Price" because you can't wait around for other people to give you a nickname, not if you've got a store to run. He made tacky commercials on local radio during which he sang his store's jingle, an entirely forgettable tune I can't forget. His best promotional gimmick was carrying a kazoo on his person at all times. If you caught him anywhere, at any time, without the kazoo, you got a $5 gift certificate to his store. People kept the certificates as souvenirs and never cashed them in.

Lenny was the emcee at everything. He was behind the podium at awards banquets thrown by the Rotary Club, the chamber of commerce and a dozen other businesses and charitable organizations. He was the announcer at the Golden Gloves every year. For years, he ran a beauty pageant for older women called "Miss Senior Sweetheart."

Lenny was big time in a small place, which is better than being nearly anything else in the world. The world will not notice his death.

But I wonder where we're going to get the next generation of small time, local, exuberantly tacky small-business owners who became stars through a combination of relentless selling, a nickname, ceaseless community do-gooding and endlessly bad commercials.

 

They were the "Stereo King," the "Sofa King" and the owner of Crazy Monte's Used Cars, where the deals are INSANE!

They were the guys who appeared in television commercials during which they broke a car windshield with a sledgehammer while screaming, "I'm smashing prices!"

When local car dealers do commercials now, they stand in front of the camera in a logoed polo shirt and puke up something about "a commitment to service."

The former Maniac Moe's and Crazy Sam's bought the cheap time on the local stations, but they bought a hell of a lot of it, and they weren't ashamed to look goofy.

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