VIDEO VAULT | Before Walmart or Target, Las Vegas had 'Wonder World'
There are several options for "Big Box" discount department stores in Southern Nevada these days. Walmart, Target and Kmart, for example. Before any of those arrived in this area, we had Wonder World.
The rest of the nation caught a glimpse of the store in 1969 as part of the NBC prime time drama "Name of the Game".
"That market's open for 24 hours a day, isn't it?" queried Cliff Potts as investigator Andy Hill.
"Yep," responded the laconic Ed Wallaby as played by Keenan Wynn.
"You know, you could ditch car here and it might be days before anybody noticed it," continued Potts.
The episode entitled "Love-In at Ground Zero" was largely shot in and around the Las Vegas valley, with one scene taking place in a parking lot with the words "Wonder World" prominently displayed atop the building in the background.
"They bought the Decatur store and the name Wonder World in 1966," says Irene Kaufman from her home in the Paradise Palms neighborhood near Maryland Parkway and Desert Inn Road.
Her husband Herb had pioneered the big box concept in Southern Nevada, but it was a bit different than the business plans typically found today.
"So each department was leased. But Wonder World owned the store and the property," explains Irene.
After the initial location at Decatur & Vegas Drive proved successful, they added Sahara & Valley View, North 25th (Eastern Avenue today) at Owens and then the big one.
"They built the store on Maryland Parkway right across from the Boulevard Mall in 1968."
The prominent new store caught the eye of a "Name of the Game" location scout, and soon Irene found her family involved in the production.
"My oldest son and my niece were riding on a merry-go-round in one of the shots," she remembers with a smile.
"You see, there was a carousel," said Potts while he observed the kids. He was using the music in the background as a clue for the case he was working on.
Some well-known Las Vegans worked at Wonder World over the years. Former Metro Captain Randy Oaks was a cart boy. Nevada Supreme Court Judge Michael Cherry worked in security. TV personality Gus Giuffre did commercials. And Wonder World store manager Ron Lurie went on to become Las Vegas Mayor in the late 80S. By then herb Kaufman had already moved on.
"After he got out of Wonder World, he was partners with Johnny Carson in TV-5."
Herb Kaufman passed away in 2012. Irene Kaufman still lives in Paradise Palms. The Wonder World stores closed one by one in the mid-1980s, and now live on only in memories, photos, old newspaper ads...and the occasional re-run of an obscure episode of "Name of the Game".