Where's the Duff?

A 2-year-old girl, small and forlorn, stands on the side of a Kwik-E-Mart, the cartoon convenience store of Simpsons fame, in Burbank. The girl’s mother is trying to coax her baby to stand in front of the authentic-looking Bart Simpson graffiti so that she can snap a photo. The flaming-red spray paint reads “El Barto” and “Skinner Stinks” above a steaming Principal Skinner’s head. The baby stands dumbstruck, too close to the curb to make the shot work. Finally, the mother gives up and swoops the child into her arms.

The outside of the sparkling Kwik-E-Mart is painted a rainbow of fresh colors — a refreshing change from the usually unassuming red, green and orange scheme of the converted 7-Eleven that occupies this space at the intersection of Olive and Verdugo in Burbank. The parking lot is full and there’s a line to get into the store. For 7-Eleven, this is marketing gold. Adults and kids alike eagerly await the chance to enter the Kwik-E-Mart and sample some of the Simpsons’ favored snacks.

A Burbank local, Frank Olivas, waits in front of the “Springfield Bank” ATM outside the store. He’s with his two kids, Kayla, 10, and Brandon, 12. “They’ve been asking to come by for several days; finally today I brought them,” Olivas says. Kayla is anxious to try the “Squishees,” the icy knockoff Slurpees. This seems to be the general consensus of 10-year-olds waiting in line. An employee sporting a Kwik-E-Mart polo shirt monitors the stream of people, letting in groups of twos and threes at a time. “Hey, you’ve gotta wait your turn,” he scolds, in a practiced tone, an impatient teenager who cuts to the front of the line.

Brian Popowitz, a student at the University of Maryland, took a break from his summer job at a record label to satisfy his curiosity. “I want to see if they have a real Apu working,” he says.

Unfortunately, no real Apu is working, however — whether planned or coincidental — all three cashiers appear as if they could be Apu’s cousins. Cashier Ratan Barna enjoys the action. “Very busy,” he says in Apu’s clipped way. “Too much fun, good business.”

You won’t find any live-action Barts or Lisas here either. Instead, life-size plastic figures include Maggie crawling on top of a Buzz Cola machine and Homer gorging himself with two hot dogs at once. Also available is a bounty of Homer’s favorite confection — the pink, sprinkled doughnut. A banner above the display proudly quotes one of Homer’s favorite sayings: “They’re Not Called Don’t-Nuts.” The magazine rack features a special edition of Radioactive Man, Bart’s favorite comic.

Sterling Hayman, who is the account director of TracyLocke Advertising, the company that teamed up with 7-Eleven for the Simpsons promotion, says this Kwik-E-Mart opened July 1 and will be open all month. Hayman says they relied more on word of mouth than hype to promote The Simpsons makeover.

“The first couple of hours we were not very busy .?.?. by the end of the day you couldn’t move in the store,” Hayman says, adjusting his Kwik-E-Mart visor. “There have been lines around the block.”

The Burbank locale is one of 12 Kwik-E-Marts in North America. The most popular items have been Buzz Cola and KrustyO’s. These goodies are so in demand that this Kwik-E-Mart had to post signs limiting customers to three colas and one box of cereal at a time. It’s been difficult to keep the store stocked. “Every time a truck unloads cases and cases, within seconds the store runs out,” Hayman says, a bit distraught.

Amy Stevens, a marketing director at KROQ, had made four visits to Kwik-E-Mart. The first three were to the one on Venice and Sepulveda, but she never made it to the end of the queue. She is thrilled to have gotten inside this one, but is a bit sad that some of the shelves are already sold out. “As long as they’re here I’ll be coming back to get the stuff,” Stevens says. She adds that the store makes her feel like a kid again. Well, not totally like a kid. “I’m disappointed that they didn’t make Duff beer. I know it’s a family show, but enough of us Simpsons fans are over 21 that you think they could make it.”

Perhaps it’s small consolation that while there is none of Homer’s favorite suds on hand, there is Duff Dice — a game that comes packaged in the shape of beer cans. Homer would approve.


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