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Gordy Dodd at his Victoria furniture store on Sunday, Oct. 10. (Kira Curtis for The Globe and Mail/Kira Curtis for The Globe and Mail)
Gordy Dodd at his Victoria furniture store on Sunday, Oct. 10. (Kira Curtis for The Globe and Mail/Kira Curtis for The Globe and Mail)

A furniture pitchman helps the poor give thanks Add to ...

Gordy Dodd, the king of the furniture pitchmen, will be dishing up a feast on Tuesday, a day when others tuck into leftovers.

On the menu: "Turkey, stuffing, potato and gravy. Some carrots and some vegetables. Cold drink. Coke or 7-Up. Pumpkin pie after that. Coffee and tea, too."

On the guest list: about 1,000 hungry people, none of whom are likely any time soon to be customers of his eponymous store.

Mr. Dodd, 65, is playing host to his 12th annual complimentary Thanksgiving dinner, a red-letter date for Victoria's poor. At the inaugural sitting, he served 200. Tuesday, he's prepared for 1,000.

He has built a family fortune on the store's slogan, "We won't be undersold."

He promises his guests won't be underfed.

Mr. Dodd has a goofy smile, a broad nose and crinkly eyes, his friendly visage topped by a pair of eyebrows like inverted chevrons. It is easily the best known face in the city.

He can be seen in print and bus advertisements, but most memorably in a series of wacky television commercials.

He opened the doors to his store 33 years ago this month. For 25 of those years, customers have been lured in by spots featuring cheesy acting, inexcusable puns, and a jingle incorporating the store's name. The owner, as wooden as his furniture, stars in roles borrowed from popular culture.

He wields a sword as El Gordo, a Zorro figure in cape and mask "restoring order and justice to furniture buyers everywhere." He dons a ridiculous toupee in a spoof of The Apprentice ("Dodd's Furniture will trump all others"). He swings on a vine as Tarzan ("You'll go ape over our contemporary selections"). He sports a pith helmet as an adventure hero in Hindiana Dodd and the Temple of Savings ("Let me whip up some savings").

Perhaps the silliest of the bunch is one in which he turns green and angry like the Incredible Hulk. Instead, he's "the outrageous, overstocked Bulk" with - you guessed it - low prices because everything must go.

Others include a Superman parody and a Bollywood number, a homage to the beloved films of a youth spent in his native India.

Mr. Dodd was born to a Sikh family in Jalwerha, a village near Phagwara in the heart of the Punjab, at a time of slaughter and bloodshed as the region was partitioned at the end of British colonial rile. The boy was aged 2 when India's independence was declared in 1947.

As a young man, Mr. Dodd, the son of an educated man who became a high-school principal, farmed fertile soil watered by runoff from the Himalayas. To this day, he owns a modest acreage on which is grown rice, corn, carrots, wheat, sunflowers, sugar cane and mustard seed.

He came to British Columbia in 1968, working in Terrace and Prince Rupert for five years before returning to his homeland, where he married Ravinder, a teacher. He tried farming for four years before bringing his family, including his parents, to Victoria. His mother still lives with them, aged 94.

Mr. Dodd opened a modest 2,500-square-foot furniture store in 1977. His showrooms now boast 35,000 square feet of display space. His son, named Love, handles the day-to-day operations. Mr. Dodd finds it amusing when women call the store looking for Love.

Mr. Dodd has helped ship school supplies to Africa and relief aid to flooded Pakistan. Earlier this year, he spent 12 cold hours suspended by a crane 15 metres above the entrance to his store to raise awareness about earthquake victims in Haiti. The stunt raised $35,000.

On Tuesday, he will supervise volunteers at the dinner, also lending a hand in serving food and clearing the tables.

To hear Mr. Dodd tell it, in an accent still heavy with his homeland's rhythms, his generosity is not so much selfless as selfish.

"We get internal happiness," he said. "I belong to [the]Sikh religion. It is in my blood. Sharing and giving to the needy people, or the poor people, gives you satisfaction. The more we give to the poor people, the more God will give to us."

It has been a busy week, as dinner plans were finalized and he taped yet another commercial. This one has a Star Trek theme about which he is reluctant to reveal details. He portrays Captain James Kirk, boldly going where acting has never gone before.

Special to The Globe and Mail

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