Alan Tomonari, the Oahu-born retailer who helped bring Neiman Marcus to Hawaii in 1998 and also served the island’s nonprofit community, has died at the age of 71 following a battle with cancer.
“He loved retail,” said Joyce Tomonari of her husband, who died March 5. “He loved the store. He loved it until the day he retired. It was his life.”
Born and raised in Honolulu, he graduated from Roosevelt High School in 1964 and went on to earn bachelor’s and master’s degrees in business at the University of Hawaii.
Tomonari worked his way through school as a deliveryman for Liberty House. After graduation he moved to California and became a buyer for Macy’s and Bullock’s department stores, then moved to New Jersey, where he worked for the Bamberger’s department store chain before it was bought out by Macy’s in 1986.
He would become vice president of men’s merchandising for Macy’s East Division in New York before being successfully recruited by Neiman Marcus in 1991. The plan was for him to open the store in Honolulu, but he worked first at the Beverly Hills, Calif., store and then in Palo Alto, Calif., before coming home.
Sharon Twigg-Smith remembered the new general manager of Neiman Marcus Honolulu in Ala Moana Center as a “super host” — a friendly, warm, gracious, elegant and dapper man in black suit and tie who treated his customers like they were royalty.
“He was such an amazing guy on so many levels,” she said.
For example, there was the time Twigg-Smith parked outside Neiman Marcus but had to go to another store in the mall. Lugging a bunch of heavy purchases back through Neiman Marcus, Tomonari was there to help her carry her bags.
“He was so friendly to everyone,” she said. “There’s never been anyone like him.”
Twigg-Smith would go on to serve alongside Tomonari on the board of trustees of The Contemporary Museum. They remained on the joint board when the museum merged with the Honolulu Academy of Arts in 2011.
Honolulu Museum of Art Deputy Director Allison Wong, who was previously director of The Contemporary Museum, said Tomonari graciously offered his advice on issues of style and retailing whenever she asked.
“For more than a decade Neiman Marcus hosted TCM’s annual fundraiser, Contempo, because Al understood the importance of the arts in our community. He would make sure that all of his sales staff would be trained in answering questions about the art on view,” Wong told the Honolulu Museum of Art blog.
Tomonari, an avid golfer and art collector who retired from Neiman Marcus in 2015, served on numerous nonprofit organizations over the years. They include the Rehabilitation Hospital of the Pacific, Retail Merchants of Hawaii, Air Force Civilian Advisory Council, Aloha United Way, American Red Cross, Japanese Cultural Center of Hawaii and YMCA.
“He was a really vital part of the (Honolulu Museum of Art) board,” Twigg-Smith said. “He’ll be missed by a lot of people.”