Lighting at the American Jazz Museum’s store in Kansas City, Missouri, has helped highlight the store’s high-quality variety of offerings.

March 23, 2023
Beams of natural light flood into the atrium at the American Jazz Museum in Kansas City, Missouri, where the Swing Shop has offered an array of souvenirs and gifts for 25 years. The luminous setting has its advantages, even on a cloudy day. The open brightness takes somewhat of a burden off other fixtures, but Manager Michael Tosatto must also highlight artwork the shop carries with spotlights.

“Light touches on people’s emotions,” he says. “So, if it’s dark, it gives off a different sense as opposed to walking into a brighter space, which feels cleaner and provides a better experience.”

Of course, there’s a balance. “You walk into any store these days and if it’s really bright it can be too harsh,” Tosatto adds. He takes this into consideration when showcasing products at the Swing Shop, which is located by the ticketing area so guests get a good look at what’s available and can stop in to browse.

The American Jazz Museum celebrates and exhibits jazz as an original American art form along with delivering performances and education, and through research. Located at one of the country’s jazz crossroads — 18th & Vine — the museum property also houses the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum. And across the street is the historic movie theater that once served the segregated community. Today, The Jem is a restored space and serves as an events venue for the museum. The Swing Shop displays merchandise there during performances.
Beyond lighting, the American Jazz Museum is a multisensory experience and the growing Swing Shop recently expanded its product selection to include items guests and local residents will enjoy.

Shining a light on local art

“My goal is to bring more of the Kansas City market into the shop,” Tosatto says.

Tosatto’s initiative to grow the local collection of artisan products, original artwork and name-drop products prompted him to create a dedicated Kansas City section inside the Swing Shop. It includes coasters, puzzles, coffee mugs, shot glasses and other tabletop decor.

Local artist Keliah Smith and her greeting card line, Crwnd Illustrations, are popular sellers. “The cards are hand embellished, and she was just named one of the Top 20 Black Women Entrepreneurs in the country,” Tosatto says.

He seeks out talent producing high-quality wares for the shop. But because there is a range of price points, it’s accessible to guests.

Most of the T-shirts the Swing Shop carries are made in Kansas City, and hats are also homegrown and produced by Sandlot Goods. Some bear the museum logo, others the city. Socks are also big sellers — some with a music motif like a piano keyboard, others printed with images honoring famous artists like Ella Fitzgerald.
“One of the companies I sell the most socks from is called Foot Traffic,” Tosatto says, again always searching for fresh vendors.

Artwork on consignment is vibrant and displayed in cubbies at the back of the shop, and the positioning is strategic. “I focus lights on the brighter paintings and brand-new products to draw people in so they have to walk through to the back of the shop,” he explains.

T-shirt designs change based on the museum’s exhibitions and Tosatto has backdrops custom built to showcase the theme.

The Swing Shop is an open-air aspect of the atrium with two walls. One houses about 32 feet of cubicle space on slat wall divided into 2- and 4-feet sections. The other wall is glass, allowing light to flood in. “That can present a problem depending on the merchandise. I move it around so the sun won’t damage products,” Tosatto says.

An illuminating experience

When the American Jazz Museum hosts evening events, Tosatto assures that the Swing Shop is open so guests can take home a memento from their experience. After dusk, the shop loses its blast of natural light, so illumination is even more important.

Lighting is on dimmers so Tosatto can adjust them based on the time of day. “With the sunlight we have, you can’t control that, so you want lights directed on items to be softer,” he says.

Meanwhile, as Tosatto steers the Swing Shop toward growth by expanding product selection and carrying enticing items that will draw Kansas City residents into the store, he is also focused on stocking fresh inventory on the Swing Shop website. “I try to buy a few things that are different for the website and we change up the products,” he says.

When new products come into the shop, he invites museum employees to wear the apparel so he can take pictures. He then shows off the merchandise online. “I’m trying to make it more personal,” he says.
Indeed, the experience guests have in the shop is highly personal, with Tosatto welcoming visitors into the Swing Shop and feeling an overwhelming sense of gratitude when customers compliment the product collection.

The atrium light is an instant mood lift that adds to the feel-good time guests have at the museum.
Tosatto says, “Buying for this shop is one of the best jobs I’ve ever had because there is so much out there that is music-related, and when you bring it all together and make a story out of it with displays and lighting, you know people see it and they say how fun and great it is.”