Have you noticed all the out-of-state license plates? Missouri, Illinois, Indiana, Wisconsin. And just try finding an available hotel room.
Memphis has been invaded.
But not just by the celebrities and boxing fans who've crowded in for the Tyson-Lewis fight. More than 700 Schnuck Markets, Inc., employees -- who are occupying at least 300 of those hotel rooms -- have come to transform Seessel's into Schnucks in less than 72 hours.
"We're already changing the economy here," said Randy D. Wedel, Schnucks' senior vice president of marketing and merchandise, with a wink.
Schnucks opened its doors in the former Seessel's locations on Wednesday, June 5th, at 9 a.m. Seessel's closed its doors on June 2nd at noon. The Seessel's grocery store tradition ends after almost one-and-a-half centuries.
In the end, you could get a pound of Angus tenderloin for $3.99 instead of $16.99 and half a gallon of "not from concentrate" juice for $1, marked down from $3.69 -- everything was reduced for "quick sale." But if you expected tears to roll and Seessel's customers to beg for the doors to stay open, it didn't happen. The last hours of Seessel's being Seessel's were surprisingly unspectacular:
11 a.m. Only a dozen or so cars are in the parking lot of the Midtown store on Union Avenue. It is calm and quiet inside, with more burgundy-shirted Seessel's employees running around than shoppers pushing blue carts.
11:30 a.m. At the Truse Parkway store -- across Poplar from Clark Tower -- is the same emptiness. Outside and inside. The produce is gone, no fresh bread, no more "quick fixin' ideas" for dinner, no weekend grocery-shopping madness. Customers search the store for reduced items and stroll from aisle to aisle. "Groovin' on a Sunday afternoon," sing the Young Rascals from the store's speakers.
11:50 a.m. In the Truse store, the only check-out counter that remains open is the express line: 15 items or less.
"Attention, Seessel's shoppers. We'll close in approximately five minutes. Come back and see us when we reopen on Wednesday at 9 a.m. as Schnucks. Thank you for shopping at Seessel's." One more frozen pizza goes through the scanner.
Noon. The cashier looks around and asks, "Is that it?" She answers her own question, "I don't know," and shrugs. Someone might be hiding in the bathroom. No, all clear. That's it. The doors are closed. Goodbye.
12:05 p.m. It isn't Schnucks yet. First, Seessel's employees have to count whatever is left in the store, and Seessel's doesn't officially become Schnucks until midnight. But the transformation begins when a few people begin to show up at the closed doors. A woman in despair: "Where can I now get fresh produce around here?" A man in need of medicine: "Is the Perkins [Road] store still open?" No, sir. Seessel's has closed its doors. Come back and see us when we reopen on Wednesday, June 5th, at 9 a.m. as Schnucks.
The large rectangular Seessel's sign ruling over the parking lot gets divested first.
Midnight. Why are all these people waiting in front of the store? The parking lot at the Truse store is packed. Same thing at the Perkins and the Union stores. It's the "Schnuck Markets Mid-South Retagging Project." There are at least five people in every aisle, trying to figure out where to put the Schnucks price tags. Seessel's tags were lemon yellow and midnight blue; Schnucks tags are baby-girl pink. Sometimes they don't fit where they're supposed to. The ends are sticking out, but they remain in place.
It's the first shift for Schnucks' midnight workers from Missouri, Illinois, Indiana, and Wisconsin. But, really, for the next 60 hours or so, there won't be a regular shift. "They're here until the job is done," said Larry Meggio, Schnucks' director of marketing. Restocking, redecorating, rearranging -- Seessel's has to be transformed, and it has to be transformed fast.
12:30 a.m. At the Union store. What was Seessel's not even 12 hours ago is already Schnucks. That's what the large sign above the entrance says. The letters are red and streamlined, not burgundy and curvy like Seessel's.
Where is the old Seessel's sign? For now, it rests at the local sign company that removed it. But owner Craig Schnuck said he'd like to preserve it in one of the local museums. It's a big sign, and space seems to be a problem, at least for the Pink Palace Museum, the only place that's been contacted so far.
It's past midnight on Sunday, June 2nd. Seessel's is Schnucks. It's official. Besides the new name and the new logo, what will actually be different on Wednesday, June 5th, at 9 a.m. when the Schnucks stores open?
Memphian Marie Sheldon has shopped at Schnucks stores in St. Louis several times, and she has the answer.
"Cinnamon ice cream."