10 Charming Quirks of Old Houses

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From the totally charming to the truly bizarre, older houses feature tons of tiny details that you'd never find in a brand-new construction. If you're house hunting for an oldie-but-goodie, here are 10 quirky things you might find.

1. MOTHER-IN-LAW BED

Unlike a Murphy bed, which cranks out of the wall, a mother-in-law bed cranks out of the ceiling.

2. DUMBWAITERS


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Any little kid who read Harriet the Spy when they were young wanted a dumbwaiter in their house. Despite what Harriet used it for (spying, of course), dumbwaiters were not meant to carry people; they were most often used as kitchen help, to carry dishes and things when the kitchen and dining room were on different levels of the house. They're still utilized in some restaurants today, and a more modern version can be found in libraries and large office buildings to ferry large amounts of books and files from floor to floor.

3. BUILT-IN BEEHIVES

Don't call an exterminator: built-in beehives are supposed to be there. These were actually installed on purpose for the convenience of the beekeeping homeowner. Pipes go through the walls and behind the walls were beehives. The bees could move about freely through the pipes and make honey. When someone in the kitchen downstairs wanted honey, they simply trekked up the stairs, removed the back of the hive, and grabbed what they needed.

4. COAL CHUTES


Though few people use coal as a heating source these days, many older homes still feature coal chutes: typically, there's a big iron door visible on the outside of the house where shipments of coal would be shoveled in.

5. PHONE NICHE

Not so long ago, landlines were essential to communication—and they weren't the tiny, non-intrusive devices we know today. They were big, heavy, cumbersome things that took up a fair amount of space. To try to keep phones off of countertops and out of the way, home builders started making niches in walls. It seems as though a lot of people are repurposing the niches these days as a place to store mail or perch a plant or two. Boing Boing found one (it was built for Jean Harlow) and thought perhaps it was a place to store champagne or milk bottles; it was later concluded that the spot used to be a phone niche and was divided into a place to vertically store mail once the phone was no longer needed there.

6. SERVANT STAIRCASES


By Michael Barera, CC BY-SA 4.0, Wikimedia Commons

In old mansions that required a large household staff to keep them running, servants were expected to stay out of sight. After all, you wouldn't want your well-heeled guests running into the maid on the staircase, would you? How gauche. The solution was a separate staircase in the back just for servant use. If you've ever run across a kitchen or pantry that could be accessed by two staircases and wondered what on earth the purpose was, now you know.

7. BUTLER'S PANTRY


By Hubbard, Cortlandt V. - Library of Congress, Public Domain, Wikimedia Commons

How nice would it be to have a giant pantry separate from your kitchen? Old houses often have these tiny kitchens, which make a great place for storing your food. But that wasn't always their purpose; some just contained extra counter space and sinks so that servants could do their thing out of sight. In Europe, the silver was often kept in the butler's pantry and the butler would actually sleep in there to guard the silver.

8. COLD CLOSETS

Don't let the name mislead you: a cold closet is not the same thing as an icebox. An icebox was a free-standing piece of furniture that held a big block of ice near the top to keep the contents frozen. (Icemen delivered new blocks of ice every day, just like the milkman.) A cold closet, on the other hand, was built into the house and couldn't actually keep things frozen, just cool. So while you could keep your veggies and cheese and meats cool, stocking ice cream in the cold closet would be a bad idea.

9. MILK DOORS


By Downtowngal - Self-photographed, CC BY-SA 3.0, Wikimedia Commons

It's been a while since any of us had milk delivered to our back doors, but back when that was the norm, a milk door was standard with a lot of houses. The milkman would open a tiny door on the side of the house, usually right next to the main door, and basically leave the milk in between the walls. Then the homeowners could open the door on their side and remove the bottles. Voila! Fresh milk to go with your breakfast.

10. ROOT CELLARS

Just like in The Wizard of Oz, you have to go outside to access a root cellar—and it was the first place you'd go if you saw a twister off in the distance. As the name suggests, it was used to store veggies for long periods of time, particularly over the winter.

13 Things You Didn't Know About Sam Goody

Joe Wolf, Flickr // CC BY-ND 2.0
Joe Wolf, Flickr // CC BY-ND 2.0

Sam Goody dominated the music marketplace for decades, but after several buyouts and mergers, the once-ubiquitous retailer dwindled to a few storefronts before finally fading into mall history.

1. SAM GOODY WAS A REAL GUY.

The man who founded the ubiquitous mall chain was born Samuel Gutowitz on February 25, 1904. Friends and family dubbed him “Goody” when he was just a child; according to the The New York Times, Gutowitz eventually made the moniker his legal name.

2. INSPIRATION STRUCK AFTER GOODY ACQUIRED RECORDS FOR A CUSTOMER.

Though Goody had entrepreneurial ambitions from a young age, he wasn’t always in the music business. One of his first ventures was a toy and novelty store in lower Manhattan. In 1938, a customer stopped into his shop looking for old records of Enrico Caruso, Alma Gluck, and Paul Reimers. Goody was perplexed—“I thought [records] went out with the dodo birds,” he said—but promised to deliver for his customer. Goody recalled a stack of old 78-rpm disks in the basement of his apartment building in Washington Heights, so he went home and offered his landlord a can of beer in exchange for the pile of junk. (Over the years, Goody also said the exchange cost him three cigars.) After cleaning the records, Goody resold them for a whopping $25—and realized he was in the wrong business.

3. IN THE EARLY YEARS, SAM GOODY RAN PLENTY OF OFFBEAT PROMOTIONS.

When long-play records first hit the market, Goody courted customers by giving complementary turntables to anyone who spent more than $25. He ended up giving away 40,000 of the new-fangled devices—but in spite of the incredible cost to his company, Goody considered the promotion a success. “That meant 40,000 new customers,” he said.

Not all of his promotions were music-related. Goody once purchased 400,000 silver dollars and gave them to customers who spent $15. When the promotion proved successful, he repeated it with half-dollars, buying 400,000 JFK 50-cent pieces to give to customers spending $10. Though the gimmick worked, Goody later had some regrets about the promo. “I should have kept the silver dollars and given away the business,” he said. “When the silver price jumped like never before, I could have gotten $10 million for my $500,000 purchase.”

4. HIS FLAGSHIP STORE WAS RESPONSIBLE FOR 7 PERCENT OF U.S. RECORD SALES.

The unique promotions clearly worked. Goody’s flagship store on West 49th Street was constantly deluged with customers—up to 4000 a day. In 1955, business was booming to the point that the flagship location sold 7 percent of the 33 1/3-rpm disks in the entire nation, with a gross income of close to $4 million.

5. SAM GOODY PRICES WERE SO LOW THAT THEY “ROCKED” THE COMPETITION.

Not all of Goody’s promotions were gimmicks. He also managed to undercut his competition: One 1962 advertisement offered three LPs for $7.99 compared to a $13 price tag, or $4.49 per record, at Goody's competitors (in today's money, that would be a savings of $45 dollars, or $15 per LP). When Goody took an ad out in the Western edition of The New York Times advertising Bob Newhart albums for $1.89, his competitors were angry. “What does Goody pay for this product to be able to sell it for less than I can buy it?” one competitor complained to Billboard Music Week in 1962.

6. SAM GOODY SALESPEOPLE WERE INCREDIBLY KNOWLEDGEABLE.

To have a job at the Sam Goody flagship store, employees had to prove they possessed a vast knowledge of music. Being well-versed in top 40 hits wouldn’t cut it; Goody employees had encyclopedic knowledge of all things music, from opera to punk. And he paid them well to do it—according to one employee who worked there, even part-timers received medical insurance, sick pay, vacation pay, and retirement benefits.

7. GOODY SOLD OUT TO THE AMERICAN CAN COMPANY.

In 1978, Goody sold all of his stores to the American Can Company, which owned another mall-centric music store that was one of Goody’s biggest competitors: Musicland. It was under American Can leadership that Goody became a staple in shopping malls across the U.S., with store numbers ballooning to 250 nationally. Goody stayed on as a consultant with American Can for five years, earning an annual salary of just $35,000.

8. HE SOLD THE BUSINESS TO SAVE HIS FAMILY.

Sam Goody’s 26-store empire had a stellar reputation: Low prices, vast inventory, knowledgeable salespeople, $60 million in sales. So why did he cut the whole thing loose for just $5.5 million in 1978? According to Goody, he gave the company away “cheap” because of his sons, Howard and Barry. "They loved each other then and they still do," he later said. "But they competed with each other on everything and soon even the help was taking sides. I could only see them breaking it all apart. So I sold the company."

9. THE COMPANY FACED AN EARLY ANTI-PIRACY SUIT.

Music piracy wasn’t invented with Napster—illegal tapes flooded the market long before the internet made music sharing commonplace. In 1981, Sam Goody Inc. faced a lawsuit for dealing counterfeit cassette and eight-track tapes. The suit alleged that more than 100,000 illegal tapes had been sold at Sam Goody stores, resulting in lost revenue of more than $1 million for artists like Olivia Newton-John, Paul McCartney, Billy Joel, and Paul Simon. In a plea agreement, the company pled no contest and was fined $10,000 for transporting counterfeit Grease soundtracks from Queens to Minnesota.

10. BEFORE AMERICAN IDOL, THERE WAS SAM GOODY’S “BANDEMONIUM” CONTEST.

Long before celebrity judges listened to local talent for reality TV purposes, Sam Goody tapped the unsigned band market for promotional purposes. For several years in the late 1990s and early 2000s, Sam Goody held their "Bandemonium" contest, pitting acts against each other in a battle-of-the-bands-style competition. Winners included Bobby Llama and Darwin's Waiting Room.

11. IN 2000, SAM GOODY GOT SOLD AGAIN.

The American Can Company sold Musicland and Sam Goody to Best Buy for a cool $425 million in 2000. But the relationship didn’t last long. By 2006, the stores were sold to another competitor, Trans World Entertainment. Trans World eventually converted all of the Sam Goody locations into f.y.e. stores—except for one.

12. THE LAST SAM GOODY STORE CLOSED ON OCTOBER 31, 2012.

The last Sam Goody holdout, located in San Diego, shuttered its windows on Halloween 2012. According to a company exec, the single store remained partly because the giant neon signs bearing the company logo were simply not economical to replace in that particular location.

13. A "ROUGH TRADE" RECORD STORE WAS REBRANDED AS SAM GOODY IN 2015 FOR AN HBO PROJECT.

Your eyes didn't deceive you if you think you spotted a retro-looking Sam Goody store in Brooklyn in 2015. A British-based record store called Rough Trade agreed to allow a temporary redesign in order to accommodate the production of Vinyl, an HBO drama executive produced by Martin Scorsese and Mick Jagger.

30 Stores That Will Be Closed on Thanksgiving

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In recent years, the Black Friday craze has inched further and further into Thanksgiving. With stores opening as early as 5 p.m. on Thursday, festive dinners are being overshadowed by shopping frenzies. Retailers like to point the blame at consumers—according to the National Retail Federation, almost six in 10 Americans plan to shop Thanksgiving weekend—but opening a day early also runs the risk of cannibalizing sales that could have been made on Friday. Furthermore, with stores open the day before, the idea of going shopping in the middle of the night for already picked-over merchandise seems unnecessary.

But there are still stores that allow workers to stay home and enjoy the holiday. BestBlackFriday.com keeps a running (and updated) list of which companies will not be open on Thanksgiving. 

1. DSW

Photo of DSW Shoe store
EMMANUEL DUNAND/AFP, Getty Images

DSW employees can kick off their (well-priced) shoes and settle in for a holiday spent with friends and family; all of the chain's stores will be closed on Thanksgiving.

2. COSTCO

costco warehouse
iStock.com, slobo

The warehouse club has always had a reputation for being good to its employees. This Thanksgiving, Costco's 200,000-plus team members will have the opportunity to spend the holiday with their families (same goes for Christmas and New Year's Day).

3. NORDSTROM

Nordstrom storefront
Spencer Platt, Getty Images

Nordstrom won't be open for business on Thanksgiving, but some employees will still be coming in for work. "[F]or the past 40+ years, some of our employees work on Thanksgiving eve and into the wee hours of the morning on Thanksgiving Day to decorate our stores with our holiday trim," a company spokesperson told ThinkProgress in 2014. "This is mostly a group of employees who have volunteered to be there and some bring along relatives or friends to join in. We'll also have a small team working in our Nordstrom.com Call Centers on Thanksgiving to serve the many customers who shop online that day."

4. DILLARD'S

A Dillard's storefront
iStock.com, Lee Walters

In 2014, a Dillard's spokesperson told ThinkProgress, "We choose to remain closed on Thanksgiving in longstanding tradition of honoring of our customers' and associates' time with family."

5. BJ'S WHOLESALE CLUB

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BJ’s Wholesale Club will be closed Thanksgiving. "Thanksgiving gives family and friends the chance to spend time together," Chris Baldwin, the company's president and CEO, said in a press release in late September. "We're committed to letting our team members enjoy the holiday, and we'll be ready bright and early for our biggest Black Friday ever."

6. BURLINGTON

A Burlington storefront
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"Thanksgiving is more than turkey. Or football. Or sleeping in," the company formerly known as Burlington Coat Factory wrote in a blog post. "It’s a time to reflect. To be thankful and appreciate what we have. To celebrate and share with family and friends near and far. That’s why Burlington stores are closed on Thanksgiving Day, so our customers and associates can enjoy time with their friends and family near and far."

7. REI

REI store in Seattle
Suzi Pratt, Getty Images for REI

REI will close all of its 151 stores for both Thanksgiving and Black Friday—yet all 12,000 of the retailer's employees, including hourly workers, will be paid to embrace the company's mission of getting people outdoors. "When you look at retail today, this playbook of promotions and consumerism, it's not working," REI chief executive Jerry Stritzke told Fortune. "It feels like it's lost momentum since then."

8. SUR LA TABLE

Scott Mindeaux via Flickr, CC BY-SA 2.0

Better make sure you've got all the Thanksgiving Day kitchen appliances and tools you need before the big day; kitchenware haven Sur La Table will be closed.

9. CRATE & BARREL

Crate & Barrel storefront
iStock.com, RiverNorthPhotography

Crate & Barrel employees will be staying home on Thanksgiving this year.

10. JO-ANN FABRICS AND CRAFTS

Jo-Ann Fabrics storefront
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Your arts and crafts projects will have to wait until Friday: Being closed on Thanksgiving has been a long-held tradition for Jo-Ann's stores.

11. T.J. MAXX

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"We feel so strongly about our employees spending Thanksgiving with their families," T.J. Maxx and Marshalls spokeswoman Doreen Thompson said in 2013. "And we don't anticipate this changing in the future."

12. MARSHALLS

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Marshalls, like T.J. Maxx, is owned by TJX and will therefore also be closed.

13. PIER 1 IMPORTS

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For the past couple of years, Pier 1 Imports has decided to stay closed for the holiday.

14. PUBLIX

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You'll have to buy your last-minute Thanksgiving fixings somewhere other than Publix.

15. SIERRA TRADING POST

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“As in past years, Sierra Trading Post stores will be closed on Thanksgiving so our associates can enjoy the holiday with family and friends,” a company spokesperson said.

16. BARNES & NOBLE

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Barnes & Noble wants its employees to enjoy the holiday with their families (then curl up with a good book).

17. SAM'S CLUB

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Sam's Club is closed on Easter, Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year's Day.

18. IKEA

IKEA storefront
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If you’re craving Swedish meatballs instead of turkey (or, you know, you really need an ottoman), you’ll have to wait it out. Most IKEA locations in the U.S. will be closed on Thanksgiving so employees can spend time with family and friends.

19. THE HOME DEPOT

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The Home Depot stays closed on Thanksgiving and Christmas.

20. PATAGONIA

Patagonia store window
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In 2014, when asked why Patagonia stores close on Thanksgiving, a spokesperson responded, “It’s a holiday—we’re closed!”

21. STAPLES 

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It wasn't until 2015 that Staples decided to close its stores on Turkey Day. “We want our customers and associates to enjoy Thanksgiving their own way,” former company president Demos Parneros said in a press release at the time of the announcement.

22. PETSMART

PetSmart storefront
iStock.com, J. Michael Jones

Better make sure you've got enough catnip and dog treats to last the day; PetSmart will be closed.

23. LOWE'S

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The home improvement giant gives its employees Thanksgiving Day off to spend with their families. 

24. GUITAR CENTER

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The musical instrument retailer will be closed on Thanksgiving Day. The rocking will recommence on Friday morning.

25. MALL OF AMERICA

Mall of America sign out front
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By closing its doors on Thanksgiving, the Mall of America has brought a bit of excitement back to Black Friday. "The energy has been extremely high," director of public relations Dan Jasper told CNBC in 2016. "It's a completely different vibe than the past few years."

26. THE CONTAINER STORE

The Container Store storefront
iStock.com, Nicolas McComber

In 2015, The Container Store posted a statement on its blog explaining why they choose to close on Thanksgiving Day: "We love seeing all of our customers—don’t get us wrong! But we feel it’s more important for all of our employees to be able to spend this holiday with their families, in order to recharge and renew and come back to work ready to take on the holiday season!"

27. NEIMAN MARCUS

Neiman Marcus storefront
iStock.com, RiverNorthPhotography

The luxury department store will be closed for Thanksgiving. But if you're so inclined, you can order a Thanksgiving dinner for 12 from them for a cool $495.

28. PETCO

Petco storefront
iStock.com, Miosotis Jade
PETCO employees will be spending the holiday home with their own pets this year.

29. OUTDOOR RESEARCH

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In 2016, the outdoor apparel and gear company said it would be joining REI in its #OptOutside initiative, and will be closed on both Thanksgiving and Black Friday. They're repeating the newfound tradition again this year.

30. OFFICE DEPOT

Office Depot storefront
iStock.com, clearstockconcepts

"As we evaluated our store hours for this holiday and weighed the business and personal considerations, we decided it was best to provide our associates with the day off to spend time with family and friends by closing our retail stores on Thanksgiving Day," Office Depot's former COO Troy Rice said in a 2016 press release. They're doing the same this year as well.

This is just a fraction of the list of stores deciding to stay closed on Thanksgiving. Check out of the full list on BestBlackFriday.com

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