In Rural Missouri, The Place to Bring Your Cents of Humor

By Peter Slevin
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, August 18, 2008

TIGHTWAD, Mo. -- When Ellen T. Lindsey picks up the telephone in this flyspeck town, the first question, more often than not, is "Are you a real bank?"

Lindsey, the new manager, assures the callers that the institution is, indeed, real.

Tightwad Bank may be quirky and unproven, but it is a genuine bank with a real charter and a real vault and a pair of real bankers in charge. For good measure, the business cards say: "Tightwad Bank. Member FDIC."

"We're seeking the customers with a sense of humor," said Donald S. Higdon, 54, who opened Tightwad with his business partner in May after they grew bored with running a sober-sided bank in neighboring Kansas. "We thought the downside was limited, the possibilities were reasonable and the amount of fun was limitless."

If the concept does not work out -- this is the second attempt at making a bank called Tightwad profitable -- Higdon jokes that he can turn the place into a drive-through liquor store.

Coming from Kansas City, about 90 miles to the northwest, you have to drive through Peculiar to get to Tightwad. The next town east is Racket.

Not far away are Blackjack, Wisdom and Fair Play.

"Everybody just asks where it got the name," said shopkeeper Mark Huey, 37, whose family owns the Tightwad C Store on a main drag so short that "if there wasn't a curve in it, you could see both city-limits signs."

The story told by Huey and everyone else starts with a postman who coveted a watermelon. It was the early 1900s, and the mail carrier, making his rounds, made a deal with the grocer to set it aside until the end of the day. But when he returned, the melon was gone -- sold to someone who agreed to pay 50 cents more.

As lore has it, the postman called the grocer a you-know-what, and the name stuck.

The first Tightwad Bank opened in 1984, the same year the town was incorporated. In fact, it was a branch of the Citizens Bank of Windsor, established first in a parked trailer with a safe bolted to the floor, and then in the formidable one-story brick building that is still standing.

Twenty years ago, Tightwad residents saw riches in the development of nearby Truman Lake, imagining a lively resort, maybe an amusement park or a water show. The bank would be well positioned to profit, but the boom never happened. To this day, the city-limits signs say "Pop. 63." Triple digits seem a long way off.

CONTINUED     1        >

© 2008 The Washington Post Company