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Inaction Hero 

Spider-Man can’t save the downtown Jones Store after all.

Now that wrecking crews have finished demolishing the old Jones Store to make way for all of downtown's booming progress, the Strip can reveal a long-forgotten secret about the 103-year-old building: Spider-Man bought an orange oxford shirt there in 1982.

The Marvel Comics hero (created by cartoonist Stan Lee in 1962) wasn't in Kansas City to make a celebrity appearance at the Jones Store, though. That's one thing that distinguishes him from other sticky figures of the same era who shopped there: Henry Kissinger (famous for spinning political webs), flaming fitness guru Richard Simmons, model Cheryl Tiegs, conservative suck-up radio commentator Paul Harvey, lesbo tennis champion Martina Navratilova.

But, this snoopy sizzler has discovered, Spidey's mission in Kansas City started out surprisingly low-key. His "real" persona, New York City Daily Bugle photographer Peter Parker, had been assigned to cover a national happening at the Kansas City Zoo, when China loaned a rare panda to the zoo in gratitude for needed grain shipments. (Don't pretend you don't remember this vitally important cultural exchange between Kansas City and China; it came only a decade after President Richard Nixon's historic diplomacy-pimpin' trip to Beijing.) Anyway, the Chinese panda story was a national event — one that involved Spider-Man and the Incredible Hulk battling the bare-chested Kraven the Hunter right on the grounds of the Kansas City Zoo. It turned out to be a nasty fight that at one point knocked down a stone wall, setting ferocious lions free to chase terrified visitors in Swope Park.

OK, so maybe it wasn't such a national story after all. "Chaos in Kansas City" was the title of a 20-page comic book that locals found stuffed in their copies of The Kansas City Star as an "advertising supplement." Unlike traditional comic books, which carried ads for sea monkeys, candy bars and cheap toys, this particular issue focused on clothing lines carried by the Jones Store (Farah, London Fog, Jordache).

"We did a lot of unusual promotional tie-ins in those days," recalls Jeffie Mussman, who was director of promotions for the Jones Store from 1979 to 1991. "It was a whole different era in marketing."

Mussman only vaguely remembers the full-color comic book from 1982. Its glossy cover shows Spidey and the Hulk thrashing it out with Kraven right in front of the downtown Jones Store. And she certainly has no memory of the unintentionally hilarious moment when Peter Parker spends some time hanging out around the Scout in Penn Valley Park. By the time a grinning Peter walks away from the Liberty Memorial, he's decided he needs a new shirt.

Soon, Parker is chatting up a sales clerk at the Jones Store. "I'm going to need it right away," he says, leading this hunk of meat to wonder what exactly happened in Liberty Memorial Park. Was Spider-Man showing off his legendary ability to, as the Web site Marveldirec tory.com puts it, "shoot thin strands of a special 'web fluid' at high pressure"?

At the end of the comic book, Spider-Man gives his street clothes to a nearly nude Dr. Bruce Banner, the world-famous physicist, who arrived in Kansas City as the Incredible Hulk but reverted back to his original form after saving Spider-Man's life in a grain elevator. He's forced back into the Jones Store to buy a new suit. Luckily, the department store is having a sale.

Spider-Man's unexpected appearance at the store draws lots of gawkers, but in retrospect, he wasn't the biggest celebrity to show up there in the 1980s.

"The biggest crowds we ever had came to see Lawrence Welk," Mussman says. "He was promoting his book, and we had a bubble machine going and an accordion player, and we sold lots and lots of books."

Sigh. The Strip always lamented the long-closed Jones Store's own hulking emptiness. That's because this shoppin' shank thinks a downtown ought to have a department store, just so those of us who live and work in the area can buy our own orange oxfords. But if the biggest real-life crowd came to see Lawrence Welk, maybe we don't miss the ol' place so much after all. RIP, downtown Jones Store.

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