A legend walks the showroom floor for the last time Monday.

Gene Torigiani, longtime sales manger of Weatherby's Furniture, one of the longest continuously operating home furnishings retailers in Bakersfield, will retire on New Year's Day after 43 years.

How many living rooms have, or once had, Weatherby's sofas at their center? The mind strains at the possibilities. Surely the number contains a comma.

Torigiani likes to think he has sold more than one sofa per household in his two generations of service. One every 10 years, Gene?

"I like to think a lot more often than that," Torigiani said Friday. "We want them to come back sooner rather than later."

Ever the consummate salesman.

Torigiani, who a few year earlier had owned a music store in Taft, went to work as a salesman for Weatherby's in 1975 and by the following year was sales manager.

He has sold furniture to the rich and powerful, the working class and the middle class, but he says he has always treated them all the same.

"Everyone is famous, whether they bought a $99 item or a $10,000 item," said Torigiani, 79. "We try to make every customer happy."

Ever the consummate salesman. Did we already mention that?

Weatherby's has been around for 95 years and in the same Bakersfield location, 620 Chester Ave., since the early 1950s. Before that, it was on Union Avenue. (The company, owned by Robert and Trish Weatherby, also has stores in Porterville and Santa Maria.)

Weatherby's most famous pitchman was local TV host "Cousin" Herb Henson, who became synonymous with the store in the late 1950s and early '60s, but times change and today almost no one remembers the connection.

Since then, the store has had to make a name for itself the way most every other successful business has done it — by building longterm, personal relationships with returning customers. New ones, too, of course.

That's long been Torigiani's modus operandi.

"Gene has been a 100 percent dedicated employee," said general manager Bill Cruse. "He has always enjoyed coming to work, and that's been a big part of it."

Sales can be a tough gig. Weatherby's is open seven days a week, 9 to 9 (fewer hours on weekends), and closed only three days of the year: Christmas, Thanksgiving and Easter.

"But pretty soon, every day will be a day off," Torginani said.

Well, then, kick back and relax, Gene. Just don't put your feet on the coffee table. It's new.

Robert Price can be reached at 661-395-7399.

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