Penzeys Spices Owner: Property Can Be Replaced, Life Can’t



By Ethan Duran

September 4, 2020

Owner is no stranger to voicing his political views, including his thoughts on demonstrations occurring across the country.

Bill Penzey, the outspoken chief executive officer of Penzeys Spices, wrote in a newsletter to his customers last week  that he intended to “loot” his own store in Kenosha and give away spices and seasonings to food pantries. The giveaway idea was spurred by a letter sent to Penzey that said he would be singing a different tune if his own store were looted.

“I’m by no means perfect but seriously no, I wouldn’t,” said Penzey, the owner of the Wauwatosa-based spice company that has locations across the country, including Kenosha. “Human life means everything; stuff, not so much.”

The independent spice retailer isn’t shy about mixing politics and business, and Penzey said that the giveaway was inspired by the Milwaukee Bucks walking out of the playoffs after the Jacob Blake shooting last month.

In his newsletter, Bill Penzey said, “Hearing that the NBA Milwaukee Bucks, in response to yet another police shooting of a Black man, this time just south of Milwaukee in Kenosha, Wisconsin, chose in unison to walk away from yesterday’s playoff game and were willing to take the loss, for me, brought such a sense of hope and that tide will no longer stay unturned.”

Penzey wrote that he wanted to close the store for a day, like he did for the fiftieth anniversary of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s assassination in 2018, but that would also means shutting down touchless pickup orders and putting a burden on parents entering their young kids back to school. Instead, the inventory of the Kenosha store will be solicited to organizations that would use it.

Penzeys Spices Owner: Property Can Be Replaced, Life Can't
The store front of Penzeys Spices Kenosha location, offering curbside service. (Photo by Jonathon Sadowski)

The “self-looting” in response to a police shooting and social unrest matches a recent trend of businesses tying marketing with activism. Thomas O’Guinn, professor of marketing at the University of Wisconsin School of Business said, “It’s been a case where politics and marketing are growing closer together in the past twenty years.”

“It puts a marker down that they’re on a certain side of things, that they’re socially aware,” said O’Guinn. “Their existing market is a somewhat politically aware market who likes this kind of thing, so it’s not going against the current.”

Kristi Walton, the owner of Sweet Impact Chocolates in Kenosha, encouraged Penzey to reach out to the Uptown Kenosha Facebook page through Twitter. She says she hasn’t made an order for spices yet but the support from other business owners is amazing.

“Loss of life is always more serious,” Walton said about the property damage during the unrest in Kenosha last week. “Nobody can be replaced, and buildings can be. But I think we’ve all got enough generosity to go around.”

“People are going to give to the area they’re most passionate about,” Walton said. “If I’m more passionate about someone like Jacob Blake being shot, I’m going to obviously want to help the family because it’s a huge road for them to go through. If someone is very passionate about it and has businesses and services available to community members in uptown and downtown, they’re going to want to help them rebuild and get going again.”

Penzeys Spices Owner: Property Can Be Replaced, Life Can't
Kenosha resident Jacob Blake, a father of five, is now paralyzed from the waist down after being shot in the back seven times by a Kenosha police officer. (Facebook photo)

Penzeys Spices has spoken up on political issues before, like when they spent over $700,000 on Facebook ads to promote Donald Trump’s impeachment.

Penzey did not immediately return a request for an interview with UpNorthNews. The spice CEO told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel that the company received more than 5,000 responses to the newsletter. Most of the responses thanked Penzey for taking action. Karen Davis of Detroit, Michigan, is among them.

“Reading Penzey’s statement made me tear up,” she tweeted. “I’m giving thanks to everyone who stands up to remain honest, caring, loving, merciful, and humane in these difficult days.”




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