TRAVERSE CITY — Since the early 1970s, Roy’s General Store at the corner of Hammond and Three Mile Road has used a portable sign by the road to attract the attention of passers-by.
From “EAT HERE — GET GAS AND WORMS” to “IT’S TOO COLD TO CHANGE THE SIGN,” the family-run business tries to use humor and wordplay to attract customers.
But a recent attempt to promote a grill igniter modeled after an M-16 automatic rifle may be a sign of changing times, and more of a political statement. A few weeks ago the sign read: “GET YOUR M16 RIFLE HERE BEFORE IT IS OUTLAWED.”
Store manager Rob Hentschel, a former Grand Traverse County commissioner, said it was intended to be a play on words, “like most of our signs.”
“There’s obviously a lot of hubbub going on with gun control and it seems to be one of the president’s high-priority agendas,” Hentschel said. “It’s something people were already talking about.”
Most regular customers took it as a joke, he said, knowing that the store sells ammunition, but isn’t licensed to merchandise guns.
“They all come in with kind of a grin on their face, ‘Where are these M-16s? You know you have to have a license for that,’” said Rob’s dad, Bob Hentschel. “People aren’t stupid.”
But not all viewed it that way. Rob Hentschel said the store had several inquiries from shoppers about guns.
Roy’s Facebook page said an employee reported an official-looking person entered the store and asked questions about rifle sales, prompting store officials to tone down that original message. As of Thursday, the sign read, “PILOT LIGHT OUT? FIRE ‘ER BACK UP WITH AN M16 RIFLE.”
“However, there are still people stopping in to see about getting an M-16 rifle,” a Feb. 22 Facebook post said. “We apologize for this confusion and promise to take down the sign when the last lighter is sold. After just a couple days they are almost half gone, so it shouldn’t be long now.
“Stop in and get your M-16 soon!”
Playing around with the sign is “just part of what we do,” said Bob Hentschel. His wife keeps a running record of the phrases they put up, and has for years.
“It’s such a good sales tool for us,” Bob Hentschel said. “We’ve learned if you don’t change the sign twice a week, people quit looking at it.”
Bruce Odom, who lives in East Bay Township and drives by the Hammond-Three Mile road intersection twice a day, said he has long admired Roy’s for surviving through construction of a large grocery store nearby and for filling a niche with repairs and parts for snow blowers, lawn mowers and the like. He also enjoyed the humor they inject into their signs.
As for this week’s sign, which had the “Eat Here-Get Gas” on one side and the latest M-16 message on the other, he said, “On one side of the sign, it works really well.”
He didn’t have the same reaction to the M-16 message, even after learning that it promoted a grill igniter, not a real machine gun.
“If the M-16 is a military rifle, that’s a military weapon,” he said. “It’s designed to take your enemy’s life. It’s not anything that anybody who’s ever had to use one would joke about.
“Now that we know the explanation, OK, it’s almost funny. But not really.”