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Kick Line Through the Pearly Gates

Tom Natalini set corporate visual standards for the ages




My initiation into the executive side of visual merchandising began when I met Tom Natalini, who was at the time Allied Stores corporate director of visual merchandising. I had just been promoted to corporate director of visual merchandising for Stern’s Department Stores, a division of Allied, and I thought I knew what I knew. The occasion was my first Allied meeting held at the Hippodrome Building on 42nd Street.

In my new position for barely a few weeks, I remember being in awe of this meeting held in a grand hall, and attended by higher-ups in the visual merchandising world. A series of slides (yes, that was state-of-the-art presentation technology) splashed images onto the screen of Allied Stores from across the county.

Tom would travel the country to the more than 20 Allied divisions, taking hundreds of photographs (not digital) and copious notes. His role was to establish company guidelines and standards. Also, if there were a new trend – say, if hats suddenly became big – he made sure we all had hat racks.

He was our eyes and ears, and he reported back to us with enthusiasm and passion. He taught me about the importance of maintaining standards and the company image. He was extremely generous with his time, and helped lay the groundwork for my career and the careers of many other young visual merchandisers.

In 1987, he was the recipient of the National Retail Merchants Association’s “Visual Merchandiser of the Year Award,” and was instrumental in the creation of the Society of Visual Merchandisers.

Tom passed away in February. He was 78. His sister wrote of Tom’s passing in the following way: “Rumors have it that, instead of angels arriving to escort Tommy to heaven, an entourage of Rockettes was sent with instructions to form a ‘kick line’ as they entered through the Pearly Gates. All of you know that this is not an irreverent treatment of Tom’s passing, but one that captures the spirit of his life – a life lived with exuberance, humor, an ever-creating spirit and a deep love for his family and friends.”


Tom Natalini made a huge contribution – providing recognition of the importance of visual merchandising, and helping to ensure its future as an integral part of the retail process.



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