A downtown sandwich shop has recently begun a unique advertising campaign. A person suits up in a giant fountain drink cup, and walks around the central city. The sight has brought smiles to a few faces, though some observers may have drifted into that old argument of “half full” versus “half empty.” It’s a type of advertising that reminds me of the days of old when a giant Mr. Peanut walked the streets of downtown.
In 1929, the Planters Peanut Company opened a chain of stores under a subsidiary, the National Peanut Corporation. In 1938, twenty-six year old entrepreneur Ernest H. Longworth opened a peanut shop in downtown Chattanooga at 615 Market Street. Mr. Longworth had moved to Chattanooga from Nashville, where he was listed in the 1930 census as a laborer.
The peanut storefront on Market Street had formerly been a Gilman Paint store. It was located in the heart of the retail business district. Nearby businesses included Effron’s (607 Market), Haverty’s Furniture (619), and Miller Brothers (corner of Seventh and Market). The State Theater was across the street at 628 Market, and J.C. Penney was on the corner of Sixth and Market. As shoppers made their way from store to store, they were drawn to the peanut shop by the aroma of the roasting peanuts.
The Planters shops sold a variety of toys and figurines in addition to the sacks of peanuts. Most featured Mr. Peanut, the suave corporate icon of Planters. On the shelves were cups with the face and top hat of Mr. Peanut, make-your-own peanut butter makers, and banks. Each of these items is now very collectible according to an Internet search.
A person in a Mr. Peanut costume would sometimes greet customers at the store, or walk the sidewalks of downtown to draw customers. It was an era when Market Street lived up to its name, with lots of open-air merchandising.
By the early 1960’s, retailing had moved into new suburban areas around Chattanooga. Mr. Longworth opened a branch of his store at 5951 Brainerd Road. The location was convenient to customers of the new Brainerd Village and Eastgate Mall. Getting a bag of peanuts after a game of miniature golf at Goony Golf or Putt-Putt was a treat.
Ernest Longworth passed away in 1964. His widow, Mildred, managed the stores until the late 1960’s. The Brainerd store relocated to other addresses including 3924 Brainerd Road at Belvoir and 4827 Brainerd Road before closing. By 1969, a Chow Hound Restaurant had opened in the Market Street building where so many had been served those legendary legumes from Planters.
If you miss the Planters Peanut Shop, I can offer you a solution for your nostalgia. It is possible to grow peanuts in this area, as long as you either have naturally sandy soil or you enhance your clay soil to favor peanuts. I buy my Jumbo Virginia seed peanuts from a mail-order company. After we harvest the peanuts in the early fall, we roast them in the oven. The aroma reminds me of the days of my childhood, and trips downtown to shop.
Don’t turn on your ceiling fan and open your windows while roasting your peanuts, unless you want your neighbors to come over.
If you remember the Planters Peanut shops, please send me an e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.