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The Origins of 11 Big Box Stores

Saturday may be for small businesses, but Black Friday is all about the big box stores. Here’s a look at the origins of 11 big stores that are probably promising big savings (and long lines) this weekend.

1. Best Buy

© Best Buy/St. Paul Business Journal, Michael Maloney/San Francisco Chronicle/Corbis

Richard Schulze opened his first Sound of Music store in St. Paul, Minnesota, in 1966. The store, which originally sold home and car stereos, was a success, and Schulze opened eight additional stores in the area over the next decade. By 1981, Sound of Music had added VCRs, laserdisc equipment, and household appliances to its offerings. That year, a tornado ravaged the most profitable of Schulze’s nine stores, but the inventory was spared. In response, he poured money into print and radio advertisements for a “Tornado Sale,” which was to be held outside the damaged store. Schulze stocked the parking lot with additional inventory from his other stores, which he closed for the day. The event was such a huge success that Schulze rethought his business.

Two years later, he changed the company name to Best Buy and opened his first superstore in Burnsville, Minnesota. Best Buy enjoyed enormous growth over the next two decades thanks to effective advertising and its wide selection of electronic goods at discount prices.

2. Home Depot

In 1978, Bernie Marcus and Arthur Blank were fired from their high-ranking positions at California-based Handy Dan Home Improvement Centers. But they didn’t spend much time wallowing in their sorrows.

With the help of investment banker Ken Langone, Marcus and Blank purchased four JC Penney stores in Atlanta and opened the first Home Depot in 1979. Their business model was simple: buy directly from manufacturers and set prices lower than the competition, making up lost margin in volume of sales.

According to their book Built From Scratch, the duo asked Ross Perot, who had founded Electronic Data Systems Corp. and was a friend of Langone, if he was interested in investing in the company while it was still in its infancy. Perot allegedly declined because Marcus wanted him to assume the lease on his used Cadillac. “My guys at EDS drive Chevrolets,” Perot said.

No matter, the company went public in 1981 and took off from there. The first super-sized Home Depot opened in California in 1986, one year after the chain opened its 50th store. By 1989, Home Depot had put Handy Dan out of business. Today, there are more than 2,000 Home Depots worldwide.

3. Toys “R” Us

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In 1948, 25-year-old World War II veteran Charles Lazarus began selling baby furniture in his father’s bike shop in Washington, DC. Recognizing the demand for children’s toys, Lazarus soon broadened his inventory and renamed the store Children’s Supermart. He opened Baby Furniture & Toy Supermarket in 1952, using backwards R’s in the sign to grab attention. Five years later, he opened Children’s Bargaintown, which became the first Toys “R” Us, in nearby Rockville, Md. The store’s giraffe mascot, Dr. G. Raffe, was renamed Geoffrey shortly before Lazarus sold Toys “R” Us to Interstate Stores in 1966.

After Interstate went bankrupt, Lazarus helped revive the Toys “R” Us brand and led the chain to enormous growth over the next two decades. His stores were some of the first to use scanning guns, which made checkout lines faster for the consumer and helped the company track inventory daily. The first Kids “R” Us store opened in 1983 and Babies “R” Us launched in 1996. Today there are more than 800 Toys “R” Us and Babies “R” Us stores across the country.

4. Dick’s Sporting Goods

In 1948, 18-year-old Dick Stack developed a business plan to sell fishing equipment at the Army and Navy supply store where he worked in Binghamton, New York. After the supply store’s owner rebuffed him, Stack used $300 from his grandmother to open his own bait and tackle shop in Binghamton later that year. Over the next decade, the inventory at the original Dick’s expanded to include a wide variety of sporting goods.

Dick’s remained a small operation until 1984, when Dick Stack’s son, Edward, became CEO. In 10 years, Edward helped the company grow from two stores in Binghamton to 22 stores in 11 markets. The company experienced a minor hiccup in 2000, when it announced it was changing the address of its online store to dickssportinggoods.com. Previously, the company had spent millions of dollars on an advertising campaign to familiarize consumers with dsports.com. That proved to be a poor alternative to dicks.com, which the company didn’t use out of fear that it would be blocked by filters on some Internet search engines. The chain has continued to expand and now boasts more than 300 stores across the country.

5. Kohl’s

Maxwell Kohl made a living operating traditional grocery stores before opening his first supermarket, Kohl’s Food Stores, in 1946. He opened his first Kohl’s department store in Brookfield, Wisconsin, in 1962. In addition to selling general goods, the original Kohl’s department store was paired with a grocery store. Over the next 10 years, the dual-store concept was abandoned and Kohl opened four additional department stores. Maxwell Kohl’s sons, including future US Senator Herb Kohl, managed the business until 1979, when an investment firm took control and helped expand the Kohl’s brand to markets outside of the Midwest. Today, there’s at least one Kohl’s in 49 of 50 states.

6. Target

Image credit: Flickr user Eric M. Martin

In 1902, George Draper Dayton, who founded the Minnesota Loan and Investment Company, built a six-story department store in Minneapolis. Dayton ran the store along with his five sons until his death in 1938. The Daytons opened Southdale, the world’s first fully enclosed two-level shopping center, in 1956, and opened the first Target discount store in Roseville, Minn., in 1962. According to the company’s website, it debated more than 200 possible names before settling on Target and the bullseye logo. “As a marksman’s goal is to hit the center of the bulls-eye, the new store would do much the same in terms of retail goods, services, commitment to the community, price, value and overall experience.”

By 1970, the upscale discount chain had opened stores in Colorado, Missouri, and Texas. Today, there are more than 1,500 Targets nationwide.

7. Lowe’s

Home Depot’s main competitor was founded in North Carolina in 1946. H. Carl Buchan and his brother-in-law, James Lowe, ran a small hardware store before Buchan bought out his partner’s share in the business. Buchan reorganized the store’s business model by dealing directly with manufacturers and stocking the shelves almost exclusively with hardware and building materials to capitalize on the post-war building boom. The strategy worked and Lowe’s, which was incorporated in 1952, expanded to six stores by 1955. The company went public in 1961 and continued to grow over the next three decades. The first Lowe’s megastore was opened in 1994.

8. Meijer

Hendrik Meijer, a barber, opened North Side Grocery store in Greenville, Michigan, with his 14-year-old son in 1934. Meijer stocked his original store with about $300 of merchandise that he purchased on credit. From these humble beginnings, Meijer built a chain of more than 20 stores by 1960. But his biggest contribution to the retail business was yet to come.

In 1962, Meijer opened Thrifty Acres in Grand Rapids, Michgian. Thrifty Acres sold food and general merchandise and is considered one of the first retail supercenters. According to Thrifty Years: The Life of Hendrik Meijer, the original Thrifty Acres stores were built with six-inch floors so that they could be converted into car showrooms if the supercenter concept failed. It didn’t. Thrifty Acres stores were rebranded as Meijer in 1986. Today, there are nearly 200 locations nationwide.

9. Costco

Image credit: Flickr user Julep67

Jim Sinegal, an executive vice president for Price Club, left the company to start his own venture and opened the first Costco in Seattle in 1983. Price Club, founded by Sol and Robert Price, had pioneered the warehouse retail model when it opened its first store in San Diego in 1976. Price Club and Costco entered into a partial merger in 1993, but split again one year later. Sinegal changed the company name from PriceCostco to Costco Wholesale in 1997 and continues to manage it to this day. With nearly 600 locations across the world, Costco boasts a membership base of more than 50 million. It's also the largest wine retailer in the U.S.

10. Sports Authority

Like Bernie Marcus and Arthur Blank, Jack Smith, one-time CEO of Herman’s World of Sports, put his former employer out of business with his own upstart company. Smith opened the first Sports Authority in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, in 1987, bringing the superstore model to the sporting goods industry. Kmart CEO Joseph Antonini acquired Sports Authority for $75 million in 1990, which provided the financial clout necessary for Sports Authority to expand from an eight-store Florida enterprise to a nationwide chain. Today, the Colorado-based company operates more than 450 stores in 45 states.

11. Walmart

Sam Walton opened his first discount store in Rogers, Arkansas, in 1962 and the company was officially incorporated as Wal-Mart Stores seven years later. The first Walmart distribution center opened in 1970. In 1983, Walmart introduced People Greeters in its stores and Walton opened the first Sam’s Club in Midwest City, Oklahoma. By 1987, Walmart had more than 1,000 stores. Today, there are nearly 9,000 locations worldwide and the company boasts revenues of more than $400 billion. And in case you were wondering, a single Walmart grocery distribution center can store four million bananas.

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25 Brilliant Uses For Thanksgiving Leftovers
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Thanksgiving is one of the most anticipated meals of the year. But the day after? Leftover central. Instead of pushing untouched stuffing and turkey into the depths of the fridge, try out these Thanksgiving leftover ideas to spread Turkey Day cheer a little bit longer.

The Classic Approach: Incorporate Leftovers Into New Meals

1. SALADS

A fall salad.
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After a day or two of gut-busting meals, salads can help clear out your system. Leftover greens need to be used up before they wilt, and when topped with shredded turkey, nuts, and veggies like roasted carrots, this post-Thanksgiving salad just needs a stellar dressing to top it off. Luckily, using up leftover cranberries to make a vinaigrette takes about 10 minutes and clears the fridge at the same time.

2. SHEPHERD'S PIE

Shepherd's Pie.
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Stuffing, mashed potatoes, veggies, and turkey can come together for a quick shepherd's pie that clears out multiple side dishes all at once. And unlike pot pies, there's no need to roll out a crust—just top with extra gravy for a complete meal.

3. STIR-FRY

Wok of stir-fry.
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Stir-fry can easily be tailored to whatever leftovers you have in the fridge. Turkey and Brussels sprouts work well together, but any vegetables will do. Leftover wine can be used as a turkey marinade, making use of half-empty bottles that could otherwise go bad. The key to making a great leftover stir-fry is having a hot pan, and using meat that has warmed at room temperature for about 20 minutes.

4. PIZZA

Slice of cheese and cranberry pizza.
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Thanksgiving pizza quickly clears out leftovers—that’s because many recipes call for mashed potatoes, stuffing, cranberry sauce, and turkey. Substitute gravy for marinara, and don’t stress about making a crust from scratch; refrigerated dough (perhaps from any unmade crescent rolls) makes this leftover innovation a much faster meal.

5. CASSEROLES

Piece of casserole.
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The classic casserole is one of the easiest ways to get rid of leftovers, and that’s because it can be thrown together quickly and baked with little oversight (a much-needed cooking style after a big Thanksgiving meal). Even leftover casseroles (like green bean casserole) can be worked into a new dish. The trick for casserole success is creating layers, similar to lasagna, instead of blending all ingredients together.

Make Next-Day Breakfast Even Better

6. MUFFINS

Cranberry muffins.
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Thanksgiving dinner can easily make its way to the next day's breakfast without picky eaters even noticing. Muffins made from sweeter leftovers, like whole or sauced cranberries, offer up a seasonal flavor while clearing out the fridge. And cooks can even sneak in a few veggies, such as carrots, for an added nutritional boost.

7. FRENCH TOAST

Cranberry French toast.
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Turn carb-heavy dinner breads or dessert loaves into breakfast treats with a stovetop or baked version of French toast. This quick-cooking breakfast clears out leftover bread, and can use up cranberry sauce, too, when used as a topping or filling.

8. POTATO AND STUFFING CAKES

Plate of potato cakes.
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Leftover mashed potatoes can be repurposed in many ways, but what about stuffing? Two cups of stuffing, an egg, and butter are all it takes to make stuffing cakes—à la potato cakes—that fry up for a lunchtime snack. If you want to carb-load for a second day in a row, you can mix mashed potatoes and stuffing for a similar pan-fried patty.

9. DOUGHNUTS

Sweet potato doughnuts.
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In the 1940s, spudnut shops popped up throughout the U.S., making tasty doughnut snacks from dried potatoes. While it's hard to find a modern spudnut spot, you can recreate this decades-old snack using leftover mashed potatoes. Sweet potatoes work just as well when paired with leftover cranberries.

10. PANCAKES

Stack of potato pancakes
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Pumpkin pie can be transformed into pancakes for an easy breakfast following a big day of cooking. Beat two slices of pie into pancake batter for festive fall breakfast, and top with leftover fruit or cranberries.

Whip Up A New Dessert

11. DESSERT CRISPS

Six bowls of fruit crisps.
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Fruit crumbles and crisps became popular during World War II when food rationing made it difficult for home cooks to craft elaborate desserts. Luckily, these recipes are perfect for after Thanksgiving, because they require minimal effort and few ingredients, all while using up leftover cranberry sauce, apples, and other fruit dishes.

12. DAY-AFTER PIES

Cranberry pie.
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Sure, Thanksgiving is known for its standard pies: pecan, pumpkin, and sweet potato. But chances are, those pies don't make it to day two. Clear out your leftovers stash and fulfill a sugar craving with a cranberry pie—a lighter, whipped version with marshmallows is easy to make after a whole day of cooking, or a slab-style pie hits the spot if your oven's still begging for attention.

Sip Your Leftovers

13. PIE SMOOTHIES

Glass of pumpkin smoothie.
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If you somehow have leftover pumpkin and sweet potato pies but no whipped topping, no worries. Pie smoothies are as easy to make as they are to sip—simply toss leftover pie, sans crust, into a blender with milk or yogurt for a smooth way to savor Thanksgiving leftovers.

14. COCKTAILS

Cranberry cocktails.
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After a long day of fielding personal questions from distant relatives, you may need a stiff drink. And yes, you can use Thanksgiving meal remnants to unwind. Candied yams, Cognac, and hazelnut liqueur combine for a "Candied Yam Libation," while a "Turkey Tippler" blends turkey-infused bourbon, bitters, and celery for garnish. Feeling hesitant about meat-infused alcohol? Washington D.C. bartender Justin Hampton recommends the "nice mouthfeel."

15. SIPPING VINEGARS

Jars of apple vinegars.
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Like other home-brewed drinks, sipping or drinking vinegars are beginning to see some popularity. And, they're easily made at home. Combine leftover fruits (cranberries or fruit tray leftovers are a great option) with apple cider vinegar in a jar, leaving the mixture to ferment for a week before straining out fruits and sitting for another seven days. After two weeks, a small amount of drinking vinegar can be mixed with soda water for an effervescent treat that's ever-so-slightly reminiscent of Thanksgiving.

16. INFUSED LIQUORS

Jars of infused liquor.
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If you're up for experimenting (and a bit of a wait), leftover fruit can be put to good use infusing and flavoring alcohol. Fruits like cranberries, apples, and pears work best, and even ingredient scraps like orange peels can be used to flavor vodka for homemade seasonal liqueurs.

Make Soul-Warming Soups

17. SOUPS

Bowl of turkey soup.
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Soups are one of the easiest ways to clear out a refrigerator bursting with leftovers. Turkey is easy to add to almost any soup and can be frozen until you're ready to cook again. And, leftover soup can even be frozen for another cold day, though broth-based soups without pastas or creams store best.

18. STEWS

Bowl of stew.
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Soup purists know that stew is not the same; it generally contains less liquid than a soup, has a thicker mixture of ingredients, and has a longer cook time. And while any combination of leftover vegetables and meat can make a great post-Thanksgiving stew, consider trying out Sobaheg, a dish culinary historians believe could have been served at the first Thanksgiving. Turkey meat, beans, hominy, green beans, and squash make up this historical stew.

19. STOCKS

Glass jar of soup stock.
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Instead of dumping leftover vegetables and meat bones in the trash, toss them into a stockpot with water for a hearty homemade stock. Even better: fresh stock can be frozen for the upcoming wintry days that require a hot bowl of soup.

Prep Snacks For The Rest of the Weekend

20. QUICK DIPS

Sweet potato dip.
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Hosting family or friends for the entire holiday weekend? There's no need to worry about having extra snacks or appetizers on hand. Turn leftover beans or sweet potatoes into spreadable, hummus-style dips by blending with olive oil and seasonings of your choice.

21. DEEP-FRIED APPETIZERS

Fried green beans.
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Uneaten green beans don't have to rot in the fridge. Instead, toss in a cornmeal batter before frying for a crunchy leftover snack. As many Midwestern state fairgoers know, the deep-frying doesn't have to end there. Get creative and toss leftovers into oil for a hodgepodge of Thanksgiving fritters. Don't forget the ranch dip!

22. NACHOS

Nachos.
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Roasted turkey is easy to add to anything, tortilla chips included. While you can opt for traditional nachos with melted cheese and a turkey garnish, there's another option to clear out your fridge even faster: a Thanksgiving-style nacho using leftover gravy, potatoes, and stuffing. Mashed potatoes take the place of refried beans, and gravy is substituted for melted cheese, while stuffing creates a thicker base layer (along with the chips).

When You're Really Tired of Turkey

23. FREEZER MEALS

Thanksgiving leftovers.
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If you've spent all day in a hot kitchen basting a turkey, chances are after the big meal's served, you're already tired of looking at it. But don't let those pounds of extra meat and sides go to waste. Instead, package up plated meals for the freezer, which can be quickly defrosted and reheated on a day you really don't feel like cooking. Many Thanksgiving side dishes freeze and reheat well—such as stuffing or dressing, cranberry sauce, and breads. For best results, avoid freezing dairy-heavy dishes and casseroles with crunchy toppings that have a tendency to get soggy (such as green bean casserole).

24. SWAP LEFTOVERS WITH A FRIEND

Bowls of leftover food.
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Does a friend have a great recipe that you love…but you won't get to gorge on thanks to Thanksgiving meal logistics? Consider sharing it the next day. Swapping a plate or dish with friends or family is one way to share a meal together, while also saving you from a week's worth of grandma's famous potatoes.

25. SEND IT ALL HOME WITH FRIENDS AND FAMILY

Leftover turkey.
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If you're dining with a large crowd, consider letting friends and family clear out your fridge space. Etiquette says it's up to the host to determine if leftovers will be dished out and shared, so don't be afraid to prepackage leftovers for guests, or simply let them have at it themselves. After all, Thanksgiving is all about sharing with family and friends—both the love and the food.

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#TBT
The Gobbledy Gooker: Wrestling's Most Bizarre Gimmick
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I don’t remember much about being seven years old, but I’ll never forget Thanksgiving Day, 1990, at my Uncle John’s house on Staten Island. While the adults were in the dining room drinking and laughing, I was glued to the television, watching my heroes Hulk Hogan, the Ultimate Warrior, and the Legion of Doom. It was WWF’s Survivor Series pay-per-view, and it was basically the coolest thing I’d ever seen.

But that night was memorable for another reason: It was the debut of one of the most celebrated wrestlers in history, a man who’d go on to win seven WWF (now WWE) Heavyweight Championships, as well as an unprecedented and inimitable 21 straight Wrestlemania matches. This man was not a man at all, but an undead monster. A “Phenom,” as WWE announcers would go on to call him.

On that day, the world got its first glimpse of the Undertaker.

This is not his story.

No, this story is about another debut from that night. One that was so perplexing that, more than a quarter-century later, fans are still scratching their heads.

I am talking about what is considered one of wrestling’s worst gimmicks: the Gobbledy Gooker.

WHAT'S IN THE EGG?

The Gobbledy Gooker was actually the most anticipated part of that evening, which only adds to the mystery of how this happened. For the unfamiliar, the Gobbledy Gooker started its life as an egg, hyped heavily on televised WWF broadcasts in the weeks leading up to Survivor Series. The world would find out what's in the egg, it was promised, during the big pay-per-view event on Thanksgiving.

When Survivor Series finally aired, all was revealed. “Mean” Gene Okerlund, the voice of the WWF in the 1980s and early 1990s, enhanced the drama. “Is it the playmate of the month?” Gene asked, to the cheers of men across the arena. “The way it sounds to me right now, the speculating is all over!” I couldn’t handle it anymore. Break open, already, dammit. Break!

When the egg finally did break open, few in the crowd at Connecticut's Hartford Civic Center could believe what was inside: a man in a giant, cartoonish turkey costume.

To say fans were unhappy is an understatement. Watching the video now, you can immediately hear the boos. As the turkey climbs off its platform, “Mean” Gene tries to sell it to the fans. “Take a look at it ladies and gentlemen!” Okerlund exclaims. “Feathers, a beak, a little rooster tail on top. You’ve got a pair of legs like my mother-in-law, pal.”

The Gooker leans in and gobbles into Okerlund's microphone.

"What is with the gobbledy?" Okerlund asks. "Don't tell me you're the Gobbledy Gooker?"

The Gooker grabs Gene, and the two walk to the ring, run the ropes, and dance the show off the air to a cheesy version of “Turkey in the Straw.”

At the time, I was confused, though not as angry as most of the fans in attendance. Looking back, I still don’t see what kind of sense it was supposed to make. After about a month or so, the Gooker was all but gone, little more than a bizarre, tryptophan-aided memory.

If he was supposed to wrestle, the entire costume seemed unreasonable. If he was meant as a mascot, who was he representing? And why did Vince McMahon, who had just hours earlier introduced the great Undertaker, follow it up with this?

I had to know.

So I asked.

THE MAN BEHIND THE BEAK

The Gobbledy Gooker, it turns out, was a wrestler named Héctor Guerrero, a member of the famous Guerrero wrestling family; son of the great Gory Guerrero, brother of Chavo, Mando, and Eddie Guerrero. While not the surefire hall-of-famer Eddie was, Hector’s career was nothing to sneeze at. He won more than two dozen titles across the country, including multiple tag titles, an NWA World Junior Heavyweight Championship with Crockett Promotions, and an NWA Florida Heavyweight Championship. In 2007, he moved into the broadcast booth, joining the Spanish commentary team for the Total Nonstop Action promotion, where he remained until 2015.


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Most wrestlers have had a gimmick that doesn’t work, or one that they’re embarrassed by. For example, hard-nosed British technical wrestler William Regal was once known as “The Real Man’s Man,” a guy who chopped wood and wore a hard hat. The Undertaker’s in-character brother, a demon from hell named Kane, was previously a wrestling dentist. It’s all part of the business.

But over the phone from his Florida home, Hector doesn’t sound embarrassed. To him, the entire Gobbledy Gooker thing was a missed business opportunity, one he says could have worked if it was given the right venue. He’s vehement that, in front of the right crowd, it would have been recognized for exactly what it was: Something fun to entertain the kids. “It was always for the children,” Hector told Mental Floss. He says he was not ready for the rowdy northeastern crowd he faced that night in Hartford, and thought that a more kid-friendly audience would have been more appropriate.

“It was not a kid crowd,” he laughs.

GOOKER'S ORDERS FROM THE TOP

Hector started receiving calls from the WWE in early 1990, months before Survivor Series. He was not immediately responsive. Years prior, he says, he had a brief but antagonistic encounter with one of the company’s agents, so he didn’t pay the calls much attention. He eventually relented, however, and soon he was speaking directly to the man in charge himself, current WWE CEO Vince McMahon. The two had a cordial conversation—McMahon was reaching out because wrestling legend Dusty Rhodes had vouched for Hector.

The idea, as Hector remembers, was a fun mascot for kids who would eventually start actually wrestling. Months after getting the call from Vince, Hector tried out for Gooker in person.

There was some initial hesitation about Hector's body type. The WWE was fresh off a 1980s era that prized the godlike physiques of wrestlers like Hulk Hogan. Hector, who had just gone on two tours with the Ted Turner-owned World Championship Wrestling, was smaller than most of the roster.

The Guerrero family, from Mexico City, was known for melding the exciting, Mexican lucha libre-style of wrestling—athletic, fast-paced, freeform, and acrobatic—with a traditional American style inspired by old school wrestlers like Dory Funk Sr. Years later, when Hector’s brother Eddie and other lucha-style wrestlers became stars with the WCW, they were exclusively part of the company’s cruiserweight division—wrestling that often demanded a smaller physique.

“They had expected to see me bigger, but at this time, when this all happened, I was on a very strict diet,” Hector says. “They didn’t realize that us light guys could do things that could maybe draw money.”

Nonetheless, Hector credits his small, athletic build and quick skill set as the impetus for WWF’s call. The work he did with WCW as “High Flying” Hector Guerrero was innovative to American audiences, and despite his smaller-than-average size, Hector impressed during his WWE Survivor Series tryout—all while performing in full turkey getup.

He was asked to put on the costume and show what he could do in the ring, and he bounced from rope to rope, doing flips and cartwheels. To see, Hector had to look through two holes drilled into the giant turkey mask's bulging plastic eyeballs, which was extremely difficult. To look left or right, he had to rotate his entire head. Still, he nailed the audition and landed the gig.

Hector started to receive a stipend and began working as part of the company. When wrestler Tito Santana was to debut a new character, El Matador, WWE wanted native Spanish-speaker Hector in Mexico to help film vignettes. And having been in the business since he was a teenager, the 36-year-old Hector also knew a few friendly faces in the company. His traveling companion, Terry Szopinski—better known to wrestling fans as the Warlord—helped him bulk up on the road. Even he and the Undertaker, who would later debut on that same Thanksgiving night, shared a brief history in WCW, where Hector was impressed with the agile big man’s work.

GOBBLEDY GOOKER'S BIG NIGHT

On Thanksgiving 1990, Hector huddled in a box underneath the giant egg for four hours—enough time so that no one entering the Hartford Civic Center could see him before the show. He was given a TV monitor, a light, and some drinks and snacks. The crew pranked him by pasting pornographic photos inside the box. (Hector, who says he was by then a devout Christian, was not amused.)

The night went on, and Hector waited patiently for his moment. Suddenly, Gene Okerlund began to talk about the egg, and Gobbledy Gooker knew it was time to hatch.


Sadly, it did not go well.

“As I stepped down to talk to Gene, the more boos I hear,” he says. “You know, I can’t hear the kids screaming that they like it, but I can hear the people, because there’s more adults. And they’re booing the heck out of it.”

Okerlund put the microphone down, and said to Hector, “We’re going to put it over,” meaning they were going to try to make it work. They marched to the ring and Okerlund, to his credit, did his best Charlie Chaplin routine, stumbling, tripping, and falling. Someone later told Hector that Okerlund woke up the next day with bruises all over his body from trying so hard to sell the routine.

As the Gobbledy Gooker made his way backstage after his performance, Hector felt the stares and immediately felt like a pariah. “I worked pretty hard,” he says. “I put my 110, 115 percent, like all my matches. I put all of my ability into it.”

“It was an egg,” he adds, exasperated. “What’s going to hatch out of an egg?”

THE GOBBLEDY GOOKER'S END

Hector continued touring with WWF for a month without incident, save for one. Hector was again asked to do his Gobbledy Gooke routine, this time at Madison Square Garden. The crew told him they would shine a spotlight as he approached the ring. He agreed.

When announcer Howard Finkel called out the Gooker’s name, the familiar “Turkey in the Straw” beat dropped. Hector was ushered through the curtain by stage hands. That’s when he says he knew he was in for some trouble.

Hector walked through the curtain into pitch darkness. Suddenly, he was hit with a spotlight. It shined through the large white eyeballs of the costume's mask, and he couldn’t see a thing.

In his telling, he says he was hurried down the aisle by crew members, feeling his way as he went. He eventually got to the ring, busted his knee on the steel steps, climbed to the apron, and, unable to see what he was doing, flipped over the top rope and came crashing down to the mat with a thud.

“All I can see is white,” he recalls. “I can’t see where the ground is. I can’t land on the ground, because I see white. So I landed on my butt. “


WWE

The main lights were eventually turned on, and a frazzled Hector finished up his routine. Backstage, he was greeted by an upset Vince McMahon, who simply walked away from him. He was later approached by the legendary announcer “Gorilla” Monsoon.

“You couldn’t see, right?” Gorilla asked.

“Yeah,” Hector responded.

“We figured that out,” Gorilla deadpanned.

It was an impossible situation, according to Hector. About a month after his debut at Survivor Series, he was out of a job. He said there was no formal conversation. The company just stopped booking and paying him.

Looking back on the incident decades later, Hector isn’t bitter. This was not always the case. Losing the WWF opportunity was tough on him and his family, and he went to work as a gymnastics coach before wrestling again for other, smaller companies. Around Survivor Series 1991, he says he was again offered the Gobbledy Gooker gig. He did not accept.

As time went on, Hector’s outlook changed. He now considers any alleged slight as “water under the bridge.” His younger brother, the late Eddie Guerrero, and his nephew, Chavo Guerrero Jr., both went on to become WWF stars. He’s happy with the way his family was later treated by the company, has no ill will, and characterizes most of his experiences working with McMahon and others as very professional. After ending his tenure with Total Nonstop Action in early 2015, Hector started a wrestler consulting business and hopes to use the skills he learned under his father and through his more than 30 years in the business to help other wrestlers succeed.

In 2001, Hector even agreed to don the Gobbledy Gooker suit in Houston for Wrestlemania X-Seven, in a “gimmick battle royal” with 18 other gimmicky wrestlers from WWE’s past. It was an over-the-top-rope elimination match, and he was eliminated by Tugboat, a heavyset wrestler known in the 1980s for dressing like a sailor.

At the 2006 WWE Hall of Fame ceremony, Hector Guerrero sat in the crowd to watch the induction of his late brother Eddie.

That same night saw the induction of “Mean” Gene Okerlund, who recounted that infamous experience he and the Gooker shared 27 years ago.

“Hector, we had a lot of fun,” Okerlund said. “But all is forgotten.”

Sorry Gene, but the Gooker lives on. And Hector wouldn’t have it any other way.

This article originally ran in 2015.

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