MARIETTA - The Keebler Elves have closed the lid on this southern Oklahoma community's biggest tourist attraction - its broken cookie store.
For 46 years, the "Cookie Shop" used highway signs to lure Interstate 35 travelers who had a sweet tooth, a couple of minutes to spare and 99 cents in their pockets.
"The Cookie Shop is really what's put Marietta on the map," said Bob Barr, program manager for the Marietta Business District Association.
But now it's gone - as quickly as one of those scrumptious cookie pieces with the lemon icing.
The Cookie Shop, which opened along U.S. 77 as the Little Brownie Bakers in 1954, is set to close at 5 p.m. today.
For good. Or bad, as many broken cookie lovers see it.
"I don't understand it," said Willis Choate, a civic leader and owner of the local newspaper, the Marietta Monitor.
Apparently, product liability concerns prompted Keebler to close the broken cookie outlet, city leaders said. The decision does not affect the 400-employee Murray Biscuit Co. cookie production plant, which Keebler owns.
It's just the broken cookies that have been crushed.
So, what about a cookie with a few chips off its block could possibly spark a consumer lawsuit?
The problem is that the ingredient labels on the mixed bags of broken cookies can't possibly list all the ingredients, Barr said.
"Therefore, if someone's allergic to peanuts, they might not know they're eating a cookie with peanuts in it," he said.
Choate said his newspaper had no success getting an official reason for the closing.
Officials at Keebler's corporate headquarters in Illinois were unavailable for comment.
City and chamber of commerce leaders have appealed to Keebler to reconsider, but that doesn't seem likely, Barr said.
In a letter to corporate officials, Mayor Linda Briggs noted the store's importance - not just because of the five jobs and sales revenue it provided - but also because of the economic ripple effect.
Thousands of folks stopped in Marietta, 15 miles north of the Texas border, to buy bargain sacks of cookies.
But they didn't just take their cookies and run. Many stayed for dinner or filled up their fuel tanks.
"The effect of closing it will have much more impact than most of us realize," the mayor told the Marietta Monitor.
"Having it was something we took for granted and never dreamed it would be closed."
But now the famous signs that teased "A Big Bag, 99 cents" have been painted over.
"We're very concerned about it, and we're very disappointed," Barr said. "This is quite a blow to our tourism program, and it's frankly going to be a blow to our economy."Archive ID: 818243