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A Statue of Liberty Tax Dude Speaks

By Patty Wetli | April 4, 2013 6:08am | Updated on April 4, 2013 10:14am

LINCOLN SQUARE — As sure as Santa and the Easter Bunny, the Liberty Tax Dude, an annual beacon of curiosity at Lawrence and Western avenues, has reappeared.

For the last three months — through wind, sleet, rain and snow — Kevin Bowyer, 20, has donned the mint green robe and telltale crown that transform him into a walking advertisement for Liberty Tax Service.

"When I started, I think there were seven of us. Now we're down to three," said Bowyer, who attended Amundsen High School and still lives in the neighborhood.

There are, in fact, thousands of Liberty Tax Dudes (and Dudettes) pointing the way to Liberty's 3,500 franchises across the world, including dozens in Chicago.

"It's expected of all locations," said Roberta Vesperman, manager of Liberty's office at 2342 W. Lawrence Ave. "It does draw attention."

Not all of that attention is welcome.

Bowyer swears that cars will purposely speed up to splash him with water that's gathered in puddles at the intersection.

"I had one guy drive up next to me. He said, 'Did you ever think you'd find yourself dressing in drag?''' Bowyer said.

"Some try to make you feel silly. You got some people who are mean, and you gotta wonder."

Kids, on the other hand, are almost uniformly friendly: "I'm the most astounding thing they've seen all day," Bowyer said.

To combat the elements, Bowyer typically layers a long-sleeved shirt and pair of jackets underneath the Liberty garb, which, he said, "feels like a table cloth."

Boredom, is frankly, the bigger challenge.

"I'll think I'm standing here for 20 minutes, and it's only been five," said Bowyer, who works four-hour shifts, usually 3-7 p.m.

With a set of headphones visible under his gown, Bowyer said listening to music helps — but only to an extent.

"I swear I've heard the same song 10 times today," Bowyer said.

Though the Liberty Tax character seems like an unusually low-budget marketing gambit — an analog throwback in a digital age — Liberty swears by the tactic.

The company's franchise information states: "This form of outrageous marketing is paramount to the success of the Liberty Tax Service offices."

"It does work," Vesperman said. "One of the things we do, we ask [clients] what brought them in the office. Eighty percent of the time, they say, 'The guy on the corner.'"

With the rise of e-filing and do-it-yourself programs such as TurboTax, Liberty will take any competitive advantage it can get.

"There's always a percentage who will file themselves," Vesperman said.

Though the complexity of the tax code, which she said changes "chronically," is one argument for the type of service Liberty offers, people more often get tripped up by the simplest questions.

"A lot of people aren't certain about their filing status," she said. "I spoke to an individual a few seasons ago, and he thought he was 'head of household.' Basically you have to have a child. So, yeah, you might be the only person in the household. ... There's conventional wisdom, and there's the IRS."

Procrastinators have until April 15 to avail themselves of Liberty's expertise and to catch Liberty Tax Dude in action.

Bowyer is eyeballing a job waiting tables for his next gig, where the dress code is likely to be less regal.

"I'd dress like a clown if I had to," he said. "Money is money."