Does the word "Xonix" mean anything to you? Does the thought of a cheeful fellow with a laser-precise crewcut knocking on the inside of your TV screen exhorting you to "Wake up! Wake up" at oh-dark-thirty on KPTV tug at the heart strings of nostalgia for you? Ever get a free crewcut at 82nd and SE Foster on a Saturday?
Then you know of the Portland legend that is Tom Peterson. Yes, yes, I know it's "and Gloria's too!". That is true now. But that's getting ahead of ourselves. First, the logo talk.
The Tom Peterson's logo is singularly distinct and recognizable (see illustrative photo above right, click on it to enlarge). It's Tom. Smiling at you with his signature smile, the happy-to-see-you look that was his trademark, his face had become so familiar to Portland area daytime and late-late-show (and, yes, Portland Wrestling) viewers that he was the company. You didn't go to Tom Peterson's store . . . you went to Tom Peterson's. He could often be found there, especially during his weekend sales that turned the corner of SE 82nd and Foster Road into a happy circus of furniture, applicance, and Xonix television sales.
The treatment is what is called high contrast. Take any photo and winnow it down to the lightest light highlights and darkest dark shadows, discarding all other shades of gray. Tom's face rendering for his company's identity is a good enough example of high-contrast that it could serve in a textbook. The benefit of high-contrast treatment is that it enables the logo designer to render a very complicated symbol or design, such a human face, into a simple yet recognizable format that expands to Biblical proportions (again, see illo above) and can yet be reduced down to below postage-stamp dimensions (your business card, for example) and retain its recognizable features. It travels well (even to graffiti stencils and the pages of the comic Boris the Bear) and becomes an icon.
The distinctive type treatment, featured on the building and in ads, is also a graphic mainstay of the company's image, just as instantly recognizable as Tom's face.
Just like the fellow whom it depicts, the Tom Peterson logo is a winner.
For the Love of Tom and Gloria
And now, a bit of history.
Every major market in the country has their local advert heroes/cult figures. I recall there was this chubby guy in SoCal who sold cars, would breathlessly rush through his adverts, ending with "Se habla Español!" and "Bye Kids!", and there was Crazy Eddie on the east coast.
Tom Peterson was ours. From the mid-Willamette Valley northward, there wasn't anybody who didn't own a TV who didn't know his name, he was that ubiquitious. And, over the years, by doing what he loved – selling TVs, appliances, and home furnishings – with his trademark look, enthusiasm, and passion, he became a Portland mainstay.
By the time the early 1990's rolled around, he was king of SE 82nd and Foster, with the store on the corner (the current building), the big store on the north side of SE Insley St just east of 82nd (it's an Oriental market now) and a store about a block and a half west of 82nd on the south side of Foster (it was a United Furniture Warehouse until that chain folded, and now stands empty). For his weekend events he gave out free chips, hot dogs and sodas, free crewcuts, and had a trolley bus running between the three buildings so you didn't have to cross the busy intersections (that much hasn't changed).
Just as famous as his wares were the souvenirs. For a long time you could get a wristwatch with Tom's face on it and an alarm clock, shaped like a little TV set, with Tom's logo on the face. There are probably people still around Portland who have Tom's voice in the AM exhorting them to "Wake up! Wake up and have a happy day!" Yes, they really did have Tom's voice saying that.
Logo designers, take further note: you never know where your design may end up. Design accordingly. Anyway.
Coming into the 199o's, Tom was going well, with $30 million in yearly sales. If you date back to that time you may also recall another name "Stereo Super Stores". It was another local retailer, a chain of stores which competed with Tom in the TV and electronics biz. It wasn't doing so well, and the owners wanted to sell. Tom was doing well – why not sell to Tom? Tom wanted to expand, and the SSS owners wanted out of the business. Win-win-win.
Only, Gloria, Tom's wife, who had done the books for Tom for a very long time, had a bad feeling about it. Everything looked good, but something was amiss. She couldn't put her finger on it. She thought taking over the SSS was a bad idea. Tom, confident that this would be a good deal, went ahead and took the plunge.
The company pretty much went down with him. Within 18 months after buying Stereo Super Stores, Tom Peterson's was on the ropes, declaring bankruptcy. And, for a while, the only appliance store owner who'd ever been in a Gus Van Sant film sank from the Portland commercial landscape.
They say, in an old saw, you can't keep a good man down. And Tom is a good man. Tom regrouped. Family saw him through, and he set up once again, under the name Tom Peterson's and Gloria's Too!, giving due to the woman he ought to have listened to all along (though her face doesn't grace the building, nor her name, her visage has joined Tom's in the company logo and she appears in the store's commercials). The company is now organized under his daughter and son-in-law, but Tom, now in his 70s, still runs the show.
The store is kind of a shadow of its former self, but if you stand outside you can kind of hear echoes of the way it used to be. And, for the time being, the King of 82nd and Foster still holds court there. No 24-hour "Wake Up!" sales anymore, but the smiling visage of Tom Peterson still gazes benevolently over one of the busiest interesections in Portland, Oregon.