In the No. 1 store, from which all other Costcos were born, stands one man above all others...
In the No. 1 store, from which all other Costcos were born, stands one man above all others. He is Tom Goessman, known to all who pass through its doors and beyond (that’s because he also works at Qwest Field). Goessman, 43, could not be more aptly named. For he can guess the total of your bill, high-five you when he nails it, make sure what you bought is what you got and cause you to smile all in the time it takes to roll past. He’s got sort of a Don-Rickles-of-the-Northwest delivery, zingers with a wink. Costco CEO Jim Sinegal himself calls Goessman “our goodwill ambassador.” The original No. 1 store at 4401 Fourth Ave. S. in Seattle has returned to dust, and now Goessman stands sentry at the new, bigger (158,000 square feet; rotisserie chickens! cheap gas! a coffee roaster! expanded deli! hearing aids!) store on the lot next door.
Q: How long have you been manning the door at Costco?
A: 11 years. I have too much fun with that job, giving people a hard time if they didn’t spend enough.
Q: So when did you start guessing the total of customers’ bills?
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A: About five or six years ago, because I was bored. I thought, I have to entertain people. When I started I was about 50-50. I’m pretty good now. Most of the times I’m within $10, especially if I’ve had a good night’s sleep. I’m really hot then.
Q: Do YOU see yourself as Costco’s goodwill ambassador?
A: I don’t know, I guess I am, because a couple of years ago I went to the East Coast to visit my cousin. I was on a subway train in Boston. It was 10 p.m. and I hear, ‘Mr. Costco! Mr. Coscto! Tom! What are you doing here?’ It was two ladies from Seattle. When I go out in public people stop me and say, ‘Aren’t you supposed to be at Costco?’
Q: You just make people feel so darned welcome. What’s your background for that?
A: I came to the U.S. on July 24, 1972, from Korea, and I’m adopted.
Q: What is it that our carts bulge with?
A: Lots of toilet paper, paper towels, tissues, eggs, juice and all this stuff that’s good for your health — vitamins. And a lot of bottled water. The prices of all of those I know off the top of my head.
Q: What do you do when you’re not serving in your official position?
A: I like to ride my three-wheel bike at Alki Beach, read the paper. I also like the shows at the Paramount and 5th Avenue Theatre.
Q: You see a whole lot of food roll past you every day. What’s your favorite food?
Q: You shake hundreds of hands a day. You’re an enthusiastic gripper, sometimes with two hands. What do you get back?
A: I hate it when somebody gives me the fish hand (limp). I hate that. Or the fluffy handshake (light, fluttery). I don’t like that.
Q: What words do you try to live by?
A: If something gets in the way, you’ve got to let it go — move on.