A number of years ago… we’re talking, like, more than 20, here… my father ran a business called, “Dell” … nope. Not THAT Dell, a different one, that (unless you know my family) you’ve never heard of. I digress. My father’s business was doing well in the mid-80’s. Dad’s Dell was an electronic repair shop. He had learned the trade thru enlistment in the armed forces and had come home to Michigan to work for, and soon after acquire, the Dell business, nope. STILL not that one. The little one. In Michigan. Lovingly named after the former owners’ love of a family vacation to The Wisconsin Dells.
While Philips first introduced a portable stereo with cassette player to Europe in 1969, the popularity of the “BoomBox” didn’t hit global saturation until the 80s. The Video Cassette Recorder (VCR) was introduced to the world by JVC in 1976, and Sony put music cassettes in your hand, portably for the first time, in 1979 with their introduction of The Walkman.
As you can imagine, an electronics repair shop in the mid-80’s was doing well. Televisions were in commonplace in American homes – and TVs, then, cost quite a bit more to purchase so families were more likely to repair them if something went wrong. It was the Regan era and the economy was said to be booming, people were spending. People were buying BoomBoxes, and Walkmans, and VCRs. As a matter of fact, in 1984 less than 10% of American homes had a VCR, but by the time Christmas ended and 1985 was underway, that number grew to over 20% and climbing. And all of these fancy new electronics were breaking and being serviced.
Enter, stage left, Dad’s Dell Service company. The 80s were a good time for the electronics sales and repair business.
The 1970’s music scene was not just a celebration of BoomBoxes and Walkmans, August of 1977 saw the passing of Rock Legend, Elvis Presley… allegedly. You see, in Kalamazoo, Michigan, the 80s didn’t just see a rise in people’s love for electronics, Kalamazooans also saw a rise in the sightings of Elvis at hometown establishments, right there in K-Zoo. From Felpausch Grocery to Burger King, the people of Kalamazoo and surrounding suburbs were seeing Elvis. Alive.
Enter, stage left, Dad’s Dell Service company. Emblazoned across the marquee of the service shop: “We fixed Mr. Presley’s TV.”
The news crews started clamoring, asking for grocery store clerks & fast-food workers to tell of their run-ins with The King, seeking out first hand reports and verifiable evidence that Elvis was truly alive in Kalamazoo, of all places. When the local news entered the front office of Dell Service on Centre Street in a suburb of Kalamazoo, they were handed proof that Dell Service had, indeed, serviced Mr. Presley’s TV. One paid service receipt from customer, Mr. Presley… Michael Presley. Authentic, verifiable proof that the marquee’s information was a fact.
That local news report featured several businesses from the Kalamazoo area, Wendy’s, Burger King, Felpausch, and Dell Service. When word of the story got out, it gained popularity, being picked up by National News sources, and eventually Oprah.
On May 20, 1988, Louise Welling – a housewife from Kalamazoo – appeared with the Queen of Daytime TV. While Welling chatted with Oprah, video footage displayed on screen including several business’s signs and Elvis-related claims. That day, the day Dell Service was featured in a montage on The Oprah Winfrey Show, calls started to pour in – mostly from people inquiring if the sign was real or refuting the authenticity of the marquee’s message, but regardless of the reason, the public had been introduced to Dell Service, the Michigan Dell.
For several months after, maybe even well into 1989, the publicity continued, businesses didn’t have Twitter or Instagram, so they had to rely on their street-side signs – and for those 6 – 18 months those Kalamazoo signs said “Elvis” … or “Mr. Presley,” if they were being accurate.
• MLive: New Sightings of Elvis: Life Size Statue For Sale at Estate Sale
• MLive: Elvis Won’t be Visiting This Kalamazoo Burger King Anytime Soon
• NY Times: Vicksburg: A Place For The King To Call Home