Business & Tech

The past year’s wild, weird and wacky Boston business stories

Globe file photos

Wait a minute. Did that really happen? We started 2016 with the news that General Electric, one of the biggest companies on the planet, wanted to build its headquarters on a once forlorn scrap of South Boston where punk bands used to roam the stage at the Channel. And we finished the year with a real estate mogul-turned-reality TV star heading to the White House. The business world often gives birth to oddball stories, but things took a much stranger turn in 2016. From dinosaurs to doughnuts, here are just a few local examples that caused us to raise our eyebrows.

Best rescue from extinction

Craig F. Walker/Globe Staff

It’s been a big time of change for that bastion of Boston-area kitsch, Route 1 in Saugus. The Hilltop is no more. Weylu’s is long gone. And, for a while there, it looked like the beloved orange dinosaur at the Route One Miniature Golf & Batting Cages would join them.

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Turns out developer Michael Barsamian is going to keep the theropod on site, possibly next to a new hotel there, as he redevelops the place into a mixed-use complex. Because nothing says “rest your weary head” like a cranky, radioactive-looking T-Rex.

But the golf course’s fiberglass stallion? Last time we checked, it was headed to Ernie Boch Jr.’s mansion, a stone’s throw from a different part of Route 1, in Norwood.

Most unexpected consumer warning

Brad Anderson

A cyclist was seen riding a Hubway bicycle in the Thomas P. O'Neill, Jr. tunnel.

You really can’t be too careful these days, can you? The folks at Hubway, the bike sharing company, in September issued an all points bulletin on their Facebook page, saying (emphasis theirs): “It is EXTREMELY dangerous and definitely illegal to ride a bike on 93.” State officials also chimed in with their own warning. Of course, it’s hard to blame them after a cyclist on a Hubway bike was spotted pumping furiously along through the Tip O’Neill tunnel, as cars sped by at high speeds. At least the would-be Lance Armstrong had the presence of mind to give a passing motorist the peace sign.

Hottest way to recruit millennials

Pat Greenhouse/Globe Staff

To hunt for younger talent, General Electric CEO Jeff Immelt and his top reports packed their bags and headed north for Boston, leaving behind the stodgy confines of Fairfield County, Conn. They dreamed up “Owen,” GE’s new geeky champion who talks in TV ads about how lucky he is to land a job with the digital industrial giant. The company also rolled out silver moon-boot sneakers, GE-branded comic books, sci-fi podcasts.

But none of these tactics were as unexpected as the GE-branded hot sauce, named for the temperature (in Kelvin, of course) in which all matter breaks down. When you’re as large as GE, you can spend money on any number of offbeat marketing ventures. We tried this one and can confirm it won’t be giving Sriracha a run for its money anytime soon.

Smelliest way to honor retirement

Yankee Candle

Yankee Candle has put out a limited edition Big Papi Retirement Party candle.

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Leave it to Yankee Candle to come up with a creative way to honor Sox slugger David Oritz’s departure. The Deerfield company began selling Ortiz-themed candles in September as the baseball season wound down in anticlimactic fashion. The jars of wax featured an existing fragrance, renamed, one that’sbilled as “an intoxicating and masculine blend of musk, patchouli, sage and mahogany.” It seemed like the logical next step after Yankee scored a hit with its “Riding Mower” and “MMM, Bacon!” candles, aimed at beleaguered dads everywhere, and rolled out its Margaritaville Collection, inspired by Jimmy Buffett lyrics.

Wackiest way to design an office

Open-floor plans are all the rage these days. But French ad-tech company Criteo took the open-office trend to a whole new level by building a slide between the 15th and 14th floors in its recently expanded 60 State St. location. Executives considered a swing or crazy hanging chairs to liven things up. But the slide was seen as functional as well as fun: It’s used almost every day by Criteo employees who grab a cup of coffee or snacks and jump aboard to head back downstairs. Added bonus: it’s a quick way to exit those “all hands” meetings.

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Coolest homage to a Founding Father

A replica of Thomas Jefferson's Monticello stands in Somers, Conn.

Pat Eaton-Robb/Associated Press

A replica of Thomas Jefferson's Monticello stands in Somers, Conn.

Some fans of historic figures collect books about their heroes. Others hunt down memorabilia. But Friendly’s Ice Cream co-founder S. Prestley Blake did something a little more extreme: He built a life-sized replica of Thomas Jefferson’s estate, on the Connecticut-Massachusetts line.

Blake blew through nearly $8 million on his version of Monticello, and then turned around and sold it. He ended up only getting $2.1 million — not that he’s hurting for the cash — when John Papale, an eye surgeon in Longmeadow, won it at an auction. Papale hopes to honor Jefferson’s legacy, and Blake’s as well. He told a reporter that he would make homemade ice cream, something Jefferson made popular by serving it in the White House: “I think I know just the person who could help me with that.”

Lamest example of corporate-speak

Most years, this award goes to some boring financial company. But this time, the winner is Burlington-based Avid Technology, the maker of that cool video editing technology responsible for much of the post-production effects you see in movies these days.

It was job-cutting time, though you might not have known it from the Orwellian headline on the press release: “Avid Technology Announces Next Milestone in Company Transformation.” There was no mention of how many people would actually be affected by this act of “consolidating and darkening underutilized facilities” as part of the company’s broader “talent alignment and facilities rationalization program.”

Strangest effort to steal business from us

We’ve seen plenty of protesters outside South Station — but nothing like this crew that hit the bricks in February, holding signs essentially protesting the entire season of winter. You know: “Winter solves nothing,” “Down with winter,” “#Protestwinter.” That kind of thing.

Turns out it was the Tampa Bay Convention and Visitors Bureau, just trying to stir up trouble. Winter proceeded along, unhindered and unabated. No word on how much business they drummed up.

Most exclusive club for die-hard New Englanders

Turns out Dunkin’ Donuts has had its enigmatic “Black Card” for several years. But news about the coveted loyalty card didn’t go viral until 2016. So what is it? The company gives it out to certain customers -- celebrities, for example, or super-frequent visitors. Its special powers aren’t exactly clear — the company says it’s simply a rechargeable gift card — nor is the path you need to take to get one. But if the Black Card doesn’t show up on Casey Affleck’s next Saturday Night Live skit, someone at the Canton headquarters should lose their job.

Most enjoyable rivalry

26weirdyear - Sav-Mor Liquors and McDonaldÕs are at it again. (Steve Annear/Globe Staff)

Steve Annear/Globe Staff

Out on the desolate urban landscape that is the McGrath Highway overpass, you can’t help but yearn for something to liven up the joylessness. Fortunately, Sav-Mor Liquors uses its signs to uncork quips like “Wine for Mothers Day - because you drove her to it.”

But something different happened this year. After Sav-Mor made fun of an Egg McMuffin promotion, the McDonald’s across the McGrath got in on the act, promising Sav-Mor that it hadn’t “seen McMuffin yet.” Sav-Mor’s response? “Thanks, McDonald’s, I always wanted an arch enemy.”

A truce was called. Or was it? Sav-Mor reignited the battle in October by saying “We sell pumpkin crap” just about the time the fast food joint was pitching pumpkin spice lattes. McDonald’s responded with “We prefer to call it pumpkin delicacies.” It was all great fun for Somerville commuters, though the guy in charge of the Sav-Mor signs hinted that he was getting tired of coming up with witty retorts.

Most unexpected name change

The Everett Collection

Mention the words Smith & Wesson, and you instantly see Clint Eastwood grimacing at you from behind a revolver. Say the name American Outdoor Brands, and you picture Boy Scouts and pup tents. But shareholders at the Springfield firearms maker this month voted to adopt the blander moniker to reflect its expanded “strategic focus on ... outdoor enthusiasts.” The company will still keep the Smith & Wesson name for some of its guns. But Dirty Harry would probably agree that things won’t ever be quite the same.

Jon Chesto can be reached at jon.chesto@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @jonchesto.
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