An update on Tom Goessman, a longtime doorman at Seattle’s Costco, drew hundreds of heartfelt responses from readers. What did he have that we all seem to need?
If you want to restore your faith in humanity, a colleague said the other morning, read the readers’ comments.
She had to be kidding.
The comments under an online news story are a saloon I step into with one hand on my holster. One person makes a valid, thoughtful point, but then two stools down, someone pops off with a sexist or racist comment. Someone else weighs in on that and one scroll later, a full-on brawl has broken out, the subject of the story long forgotten.
Asked & Answered
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That didn’t happen with my story on Tom Goessman, the longtime doorman at the Costco Warehouse on Fourth Avenue South in Seattle who was beloved for guessing members’ totals before looking at their receipts, and for drawing pictures for their kids. Goessman, who contracted polio as a child and got around in a wheelchair, recently moved to Glendale, Arizona, for health reasons.
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The update — which also kicked off a new feature we’re calling “Asked and Answered,” where we research readers’ questions — drew an unexpected wave of positive comments, Facebook likes and responses about how Goessman connected with people.
Someone named “SeattleSpinMD” wrote about buying his now-wife’s engagement ring at the warehouse store. When he saw Goessman was working, MD picked up a bag of chips and some razors “just to throw him off.”
“When I rolled up in front of him, he looked in and said, ‘$23’ confidently,” MD wrote. “I handed him the receipt, he looked at it and without missing a beat, he put out his hand to shake mine and said, ‘Wow — getting married to trick me — that’s a good one. Congratulations.’ ”
“I feel like I saw him yesterday,” wrote Ruth Williamson. “Such a strong positive presence. And I love that everyone felt it. There is hope for humanity yet!”
A woman named Janel Lardizabal asked: “What if we each sent him a card?” and posted the address of the Glendale store. (It’s 17550 N. 79th Ave., Glendale, AZ 85308-8711, if you’re so inclined.)
What gives? What is it about a single employee at a warehouse store — a place I also enter with a mix of dread and curiosity — that moves people who barely know him to show their best selves?
“You don’t really realize the impact someone has on you until they’re gone, moved away etc.,” reader Kari Sabye wrote on Facebook. “Though my kids are grown now, (Tom) used to tell them to stay in school, go to college, do great things, etc. He’s always happy and funny and I always made it a point to go in his line no matter how long it was, because I needed a dose of Tom.
“I knew he moved to Arizona but didn’t get a chance to say goodbye … I know I would’ve cried. We all need a Tom in our lives.”
Bill Ingram, the general manager of the Fourth Avenue store, called Goessman “my favorite employee of all time.” (No offense to his current crew.)
“He’s just that kind of guy,” Ingram said. “I miss him. I really miss him. Especially when you get him laughing. Oh, my God.”
So what was it that made people get in line behind 20 others for a 10-second exchange with Goessman? Why not just go to the other door person, get a dash across your receipt and get the hayride out of there?
“He is somebody people want in their lives,” Ingram said. “A lot of the time I’d say, ‘Speed it up,’ and he would say, ‘They won’t move.’ All the time.
“That connection is important to him,” Ingram said. “He hasn’t been tainted by the world. It’s so corny, but it’s true.”
Ingram has seen it elsewhere — a spark between a customer and employee that can make a 158,000 sq. ft. store feel like the canteen at a summer camp.
He told me about a cashier at the Safeway in Renton who always makes the most benign transaction enjoyable.
Ingram and I tried to put our fingers on what drew such a response. Goessman — who also worked at Seahawks and Husky games — was one of the people who made Seattle what it is. Hundreds of us came in contact with him on a daily basis.
“I think the whole world needs to slow down a little bit,” Ingram said. “There is so much hustle and bustle, and when you slow down a minute and really think about our lives … when you look at someone like Tom, still smiling. That’s when you look at what’s important.”
But it was Goessman, who called me at the end of his shift at the Costco in Glendale, who put it best:
“I am always looking forward to meeting people and want people to accept me for who I am,” he said. “People have to be open to new people. And the way the company treated me, I gave it back to people 100 percent.”
In doing so, Goessman made us all part of something bigger.
We’re not so much a city, but a community. One that buys a lot of rotisserie chickens and tires, and still walks out smiling.