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The Origins of 11 Big Box Stores

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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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Why the Best Time to Book Your Thanksgiving Travel Is Right Now
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You're never going to get a true steal on holiday plane tickets, but if you want to avoid spending your whole salary flying to visit your relatives over Thanksgiving, the time is nigh to start picking seats. That's according to the experts at Condé Nast Traveler, who cite data from Expedia and Skyscanner.

The latter found that it was cheapest to secure Thanksgiving tickets 11 weeks before the holiday. That means that you should have bought your ticket around September 4, but it's not too late; you can still save if you book now. Expedia's data shows that the cheapest time to buy is 61 to 90 days before you leave, so you still have until September 23 to snag a seat on a major airline without paying an obscene premium. (Relatively speaking, of course.)

When major travel holidays aren't involved, data shows that the best time to book a plane ticket is on a Sunday, at least 21 days ahead of your travel. But given that millions of other Americans also want to fly on the exact same days during Thanksgiving and Christmas, the calculus of booking is a bit more high stakes. If you sleep on tickets this month, you could be missing out on hundreds of dollars in savings. In the recent study cited by Condé Nast Traveler, Expedia found that people booking during the 61- to 90-day window saved up to 10 percent off the average ticket price, while last-minute bookers who bought tickets six days or less from their travel day paid up to 20 percent more.

Once you secure those Turkey Day tickets, you've got a new project: Your Christmas flights. By Hopper's estimates, those flights rise in price by $1.50 every day between the end of October and December 15 (after which they get even more expensive). However, playing the waiting game can be beneficial, too. Expedia found that the cheapest time to book Christmas flights was just 14 to 20 days out.

Before you buy, we also recommend checking CheapAir.com, which tracks 11,000 different airfares for flights around the holidays to analyze price trends. Because as miserable as holiday travel can be, you don't want to pay any more than you have to.

[h/t Condé Nast Traveler]

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The Origins of 10 Thanksgiving Traditions
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There's a lot more to Thanksgiving than just the turkey and the Pilgrims. And though most celebrations will break out the cranberry sauce and pumpkin pie, there are a number of other customs that you might be less aware of (and some that are becoming too ubiquitous to miss).

1. THE TURKEY TROT FOOTRACE

Many towns host brisk morning runs to lessen the guilt about the impending feast (distances and times vary from race to race, but the feel-good endorphins are universal). The oldest known Turkey Trot footrace took place in Buffalo, New York, and has been happening every year since 1896. Nearly 13,000 runners participated in the 4.97 mile race last year.

2. THE GREAT GOBBLER GALLOP IN CUERO, TEXAS

During their annual TurkeyFest in November, they gather a bunch of turkeys and have the "Great Gobbler Gallop," a turkey race. It started in 1908 when a turkey dressing house opened in town. Early in November, farmers would herd their turkeys down the road toward the dressing house so the birds could be prepared for Thanksgiving. As you can imagine, this was quite a spectacle—as many as 20,000 turkeys have been part of this "march". People gathered to watch, and eventually the first official festival was formed around the event in 1912. The final event of the celebration is the Great Gobbler Gallop, a race between the Cuero turkey champ and the champ from Worthington, Minnesota (they have a TurkeyFest as well). Each town holds a heat and the best time between the towns wins. The prize is a four-foot trophy called "The Traveling Turkey Trophy of Tumultuous Triumph."

3. FRANKSGIVING

From 1939 to 1941, President Franklin D. Roosevelt moved Thanksgiving up by a week. In '39, Thanksgiving, traditionally held on the last Thursday of November, fell on the 30th. Since enough people would wait until after Thanksgiving to start their Christmas shopping, Roosevelt was concerned that having the holiday so late in the month would mess up retail sales at a time when he was trying hard to pull Americans out of the Great Depression. It didn't entirely go over well though—some states observed FDR's change, and others celebrated what was being called the "Republican" Thanksgiving on the traditional, last-Thursday date. Colorado, Mississippi, and Texas all considered both Thanksgivings to be holidays. Today, we've basically split the difference—Thanksgiving is held on the fourth Thursday of November, regardless of whether that's the last Thursday of the month or not.

4. THE PRESIDENTIAL TURKEY PARDON

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The story goes that since at least Harry Truman, it has been tradition for the President of the U.S. to save a couple of birds from becoming someone's feast. Records only go back to George H.W. Bush doing it, though some say the tradition goes all the way back to Abraham Lincoln pardoning his son's pet turkey. (Lincoln is also the President who originally declared that the holiday be held on the last Thursday of November.) In recent years, the public has gotten to name the turkeys in online polls; the paired turkeys (the one you see in pictures and a backup) have gotten creative names such as Stars and Stripes, Biscuit and Gravy, Marshmallow and Yam, Flyer and Fryer, Apple and Cider, and Honest and Abe last year.

5. THANKSGIVING PARADES

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Everyone knows about the Macy's Parade, but for a more historically accurate parade, check out America's Hometown Thanksgiving Parade in Plymouth. The parade starts with a military flyover and continues with floats and costumed people taking the parade-goers from the 17th century to the present time. There are nationally recognized Drum and Bugle Corps, re-enactment units from every period of American history, and military marching units. And military bands play music honoring the men and women who serve in each branch: the Army, the Navy, the Marines, the Air Force, and the Coast Guard.

6. BLACK FRIDAY

Black Friday, of course, is the day-after sales extravaganza that major (and minor) retailers participate in. Most people think that the term comes from the day of the year when retail stores make their profits go from red to black, but other sources have it originating from police officers in Philadelphia. They referred to the day as Black Friday because of the heavy traffic and higher propensity for accidents. Also, just because you hear that it's "the busiest shopping day of the season" on the news, don't believe it. It's one of the busiest days, but typically, it's hardly ever the busiest, though it typically ranks somewhere in the top 10. The busiest shopping day of the year is usually the Saturday before Christmas.

7. CYBER MONDAY

Black Friday is quickly being rivaled in popularity by Cyber Monday. It's a fairly recent phenomenon—it didn't even have a name until 2005. But there's truth to it—77 percent of online retailers at the time reported an increase in sales on that particular day, and as online shopping has continued to grow and become more convenient, retailers have scheduled their promotions to follow suit.

8. BUY NOTHING DAY

And in retaliation for Black Friday, there's Buy Nothing Day. To protest consumerism, many people informally celebrate BND. It was first "celebrated" in 1992, but didn't settle on its day-after-Thanksgiving date until 1997, where it has been ever since. It's also observed internationally, but outside of North America the day of observance is the Saturday after our Thanksgiving.

9. FOOTBALL

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It's a common sight across the U.S.: parents, cousins, aunts, and uncles passed out on the couch watching football after dinner. Well, we have the first Detroit Lions owner, G.A. Richards, to thank for the tradition of Thanksgiving football. He saw it as a way to get people to his games. CBS was the first on the bandwagon when they televised their first Thanksgiving game in 1956. The first color broadcast was in 1965—the Lions vs. the Baltimore Colts. Since the 1960s, the Dallas Cowboys have joined the Lions in hosting Thanksgiving Day games, and the NFL Network now airs a third game on that night.

10. NATIONAL DOG SHOW

Of course, if football isn't your thing, there's always the National Dog Show. It's aired after the Macy's Parade on NBC every year. Good luck telling your dad that he'll be enjoying Springer Spaniels instead of the Lions or Cowboys, though.

A version of this story originally published in 2008.

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