Longform

WHO'S MINDING YOUR STORE?LESSONS IN INVENTORY CONTROL, COURTESY OF SAM MERANTO

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Describing a memorable sales call of nearly 40 years ago, Meranto remembers being berated by a distraught homeowner who had more important things on his mind than buying a vacuum cleaner. Pointing to the vacant-eyed woman sitting motionless in the living room, the hubby explained that his wife had been nearly catatonic for days following the recent death of their child.

"That woman was in bad shape," recalls Meranto. So bad, he says, that the woman hadn't even bothered to get to the bathroom when she needed to. Ignoring a golden opportunity to demonstrate his product, Meranto instead offered his services as a hypnotist. "I asked the husband if he minded if I talked to his wife a moment. He didn't seem to think it would do any good, but he was so desperate to get his wife up and functioning he told me to go ahead. It took a while, but I finally brought her around."

A natural disaster further convinced Meranto of his higher calling, he says. In 1953, he was driving out of Worcester on a sales call when one of the worst tornadoes in U.S. history struck the town, killing 90 people. After hearing of the tragedy on his car radio, Meranto says, he immediately drove back to the scene of the disaster and used hypnotic suggestions to pull survivors out of shock. "I missed that storm by about 15 minutes," says Meranto. "It's as if the Lord had spared me so I could help others."

Perhaps realizing that it would take more than an Electrolux to clean up the world's problems, Meranto teamed up with a medical doctor in 1969 and opened a hypno-clinic in Massachusetts. "He'd send all his patients over, but I did all the work," recalls Meranto. "Then the people would have these fantastic results and the doctor would take all the credit. Bad mistake."

Meranto didn't repeat that error when he opened shop in Phoenix in 1976. Whenever people talk about Mind Power, rest assured the name Sam Meranto is not far behind.

Just ask the 36-year-old Phoenix shoe salesman we'll call Norm, one of Meranto's biggest boosters of recent years. Prior to making an appointment to see Meranto four years ago, Norm says he spent about seven years battling anxiety, depression and a strange obsession with cutting his own hair, a fixation that ultimately led to repeated bouts with complete baldness. Disillusioned by more traditional psychiatric methods (including hospitalization and antidepressant drugs), Norm eventually found his way to Sam Meranto's recliner.

Like seemingly everyone else who's ever lent a name to a Mind Power testimonial, Norm says he was initially "very skeptical" about Meranto's "first-aid kit for the mind." "I'd heard people say Sam was just a fast-talking huckster," says Norm, who watched Meranto's infomercials for nearly a year before making an appointment. "Like a snake-oil salesman, he's got a way of encouraging you to believe that he's got the greatest solution in the world. But I found that not only could he sell--he could deliver."

And what is it exactly that Meranto delivers? Norm pauses thoughtfully before answering. "I think it's probably just common sense," he says. "Sam tells people basic truths that they need to hear in this society, things that most people don't hear today. `Your mind really IS the most powerful thing you have. You really ARE capable of changing yourself. You are NOT totally helpless or at the mercy of other people's point of view.'"

Norm describes Meranto as "just a guy with a lot of street smarts who's got the ability to communicate in a direct way some very common-sense things that a lot of us need to hear in this world of fancy talk."

One man's down-to-earth talk is another woman's heavenly inspiration. "I truly believe Sam has been sent here from God," says Brenda, a 32-year-old widow who credits Meranto with helping her young son overcome traumatic nightmares about his father's suicide several years ago. "It's nothing less than a miracle. Sometimes I feel as if an angel is over me when I walk into that office."

Never mind if Meranto's own followers can't agree on what he's doing. Firmly convinced that Mind Power has the potential to wipe out drive-by shootings, conquer Alzheimer's disease, empty mental institutions and otherwise get the world back on track, Meranto outlines plans for a campaign to elicit corporate donations. "People donate to animal rescue--well, that's great. A lady just gave $1 million to the zoo--that's wonderful. But think what I could do with a million dollars."

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Dewey Webb