A policeman held up a hand in front of Pierce's Jeep and a line of other cars while hordes of Wal-Mart managers, in town for their annual convention, jaywalked across 13th Street from Municipal Auditorium to Bartle Hall.
Pierce wasn't frustrated by the delay, though.
"I was thrilled," he says.
Pierce spent several years working for Kansas City's Economic Development Corporation, trying to lure businesses downtown. The miniparade was exactly the sort of phenomenon Pierce had hoped to create.
Last year, though, Pierce and his wife bought a bar, Jilly's on Broadway, just four blocks south of the convention center. Now he was serving drinks instead of buying them, and on February 3, those Wal-Mart associates looked mighty thirsty.
So Pierce drove back to Jilly's and grabbed a flier about that night's jam session with the Everette DeVan Trio. He imagined a house packed with blue-vested out-of-towners sloshing martinis instead of slashing prices while DeVan hammered on his Hammond B3. Pierce fired off 200 copies at nearby Soli Printing and dispatched one of his employees to hand out fliers to the Wal-Martians.
He figured they deserved a good time after the high-profile 1997 fiasco, when they arrived to find disgusting restrooms, dim lighting and haywire thermostats inside Bartle Hall, and icy, unplowed streets outside.
Pierce planned to show them that downtown Kansas City knows how to treat a guest.
Instead, a Bartle Hall rent-a-cop threatened Pierce's pamphleteer with arrest.
Who knew you needed a permit to hand out party invitations in KC?
The city's municipal code calls for a license to pass out commercial handbills. For businesses like Jilly's, that privilege costs $1 a year.
"[The city is] trying to keep the nuisance level down as far as random trash flying through the air," explains James Diaz, who handles business licenses for the city Finance Department. Diaz can't account for the minuscule fee and says his department issues only a couple of such licenses each year.
Bill Langley, deputy director of the city's Convention Department, says it might have been one of Wal-Mart's own people who intercepted Pierce's man.
"They are hypersensitive and very concerned about corporate espionage," Langley says, though he admits that doesn't give them the right to threaten people. If it was one of the twelve security guards who work for the city patrolling Bartle Hall, no one admitted it to Langley.
In any event, the day of the incident, Pierce collected his man and his undelivered fliers, then sent a letter to Mayor Kay Barnes asking for answers.
"Our reward for investing downtown, improving the options for locals and visitors downtown, supporting local talent, and promoting Kansas City Jazz was to be threatened with a fine," Pierce wrote. "With all the talk of building the urban core, promoting small business downtown, improving amenities, attracting and retaining visitors and enhancing the risk ratio for investors, this would seem somewhat counterintuitive."
And on the night of February 3, he watched DeVan play to a crowd of forty or so locals while the Wal-Mart conventioneers presumably remained cloistered in their hotel rooms wondering why they come back to this town every year.