July 15, 2013

By Susan Tofte

A History of Mr. Hooper’s Store

Susie Tofte is Sesame Workshop’s former archivist.

Every good neighborhood has a gathering place.  For 44 years, that gathering place on Sesame Street has been Hooper’s Store.

The show’s creators wanted the set of Sesame Street to differ from other kids’ shows on television at the time.  Rather than stage the show in a clubhouse or other fantasy setting, the show’s action would take place on a realistic urban street.  Inspiration for the set came from the neighborhoods around New York City – complete with brownstones, a subway stop and a corner store.  The first season welcomed viewers into the apartments of Bert and Ernie and Susan and Gordon.  Neighbors met up on the stoop of 123 Sesame and the central gathering place for the neighborhood was Hooper’s Store. 

Hooper’s Store, like all elements on the set, was designed so children from the inner city could recognize the setting as something similar to their own situations.  When Sesame Street first aired, the corner store was an old-fashioned lunch counter run by the slightly grumpy but good-hearted Mr. Hooper.  Menus on the wall advertised egg creams for 10 cents, shelves were stocked with toys and red pedestal stools lined the counter.  Outside, a green and white awning hung over a large window that opened onto the street.  Mr. Hooper would lean out the window to greet his customers and neighbors. On the windowsill sat a candy jar and just outside the window stood a newspaper stand.  According to a line from an early episode, the store had been in the neighborhood since 1951.

Hooper’s store was an ideal place for writers to stage scenes with the human cast and Muppets.   Big Bird’s friendship with Mr. Hooper blossomed over countless birdseed milkshakes.  Muppets were not only customers but also pitched in to help at the store from time to time.  Ernie served Bert a glass of unflavored soda water (his favorite) and Cookie Monster was given the impossible task of running the store while having to resist to the store’s stock of cookies.  David, who inherited the store after Mr. Hooper died, hired Don Music and his cooking choir to help liven up the store.  And Alan, the current owner, has played host to worms, pirates and celebrity guests.

Like the rest of the street, Hooper’s Store looks very different today.  Changes were made to accommodate the demands of filming the show in high definition and to make the store more recognizable to audiences today.   Today’s store feels less like a soda fountain and more like a convenience store. On the shelves, convenience store items have replaced toys.   Refrigeration cases line the back wall.  Items sold in the store cater the variety of characters on Sesame Street – birdseed snacks for Big Bird, instant porridge for Baby Bear, and fish food for Dorothy. Prop builders create all the items found on the shelves and give made up names to products like Gid-De-Up Blazing Saddles Pork & Beans, Krinkle-Free Aluminum Foil, Almost Famous Chocolate Chip cookies, and Hedda Cheddar Macaroni and Cheese Dinner.  Outside, fruit and vegetables are sold alongside newspapers.  Shiny new coats of paint, colorful awnings and more windows have altered the exterior look of the store.

Mr. Hooper is no longer behind the counter and egg creams are no longer cost 10 cents. But Hooper’s Store is the same friendly gathering place residents of Sesame Street go for a warm smile and a birdseed milk shake.

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