Life was a good journey for Jean, 83, and Betty Mori, 84

Jean A. Mori and his wife Betty started Mori Luggage & Gifts, which grew into a regional chain of retail stores. (SUNNY SUNG/STAFF)
Jean A. Mori and his wife Betty started Mori Luggage & Gifts, which grew into a regional chain of retail stores. (SUNNY SUNG/STAFF)

Credit: AJC staff

Credit: AJC staff

The partnership of Jean and Betty Nunn Mori grew from marriage and raising their family to starting and growing Atlanta-based retailer Mori Luggage & Gifts.

Inspired by Jean Mori’s dad, a gift and luggage businessman in Jackson, Mississippi, the two seized on the development of regional shopping malls and placed their first Mori Luggage & Gifts in 1971 at Northlake Mall. Then they grew it to 32 stores in six states over a nearly 50-year run.

Family members and friends said the couple played to their separate strengths to build the business.

They died a few days apart. Jean Albert Mori, 83, passed away Dec. 1 after a brief battle with cancer. Betty Nunn Mori, 84. died Dec. 4 from natural causes.

Jean Mori, an engineer and Georgia Tech graduate, as well as an Emory MBA degree holder, “was very exacting and precise in building a business and the relationships of that business. He was big picture,” said daughter Liz Mori Lauer.

He had helped start one of the first computer system and software consulting firms in Georgia before he and Betty started the family business.

Jean Mori, left, and his wife Betty, fourth from left in the red jacket, at the grand opening of one of their Mori Luggage & Gifts stores.
Jean Mori, left, and his wife Betty, fourth from left in the red jacket, at the grand opening of one of their Mori Luggage & Gifts stores.

He also became the front-man for the store brand.

“We did a lot of advertising around the Christmas season,” said son John Mori, who joined Mori Luggage & Gifts in 1989 and rose to president as his dad became CEO and chairman of the board.

“My dad had this deep voice. He’d go to the studio and tape radio commercials.”

They always ended in what became the stores’ familiar holiday catchphrase.

“Have a very Mori Christmas.”

Lauer said her mother drove the creative side and style of the store. She was the buyer for the growing enterprise of quality luggage and briefcases along with travel accessories, leather goods, fine writing instruments, barware and board games.

And she had a knack, said son John Mori, for spotting and stocking hot retail items early on, such as the tiny stuffed-animal line of Beanie Babies. The critters became a craze for children in the 1990s. She also became an early retail purveryor of what was then less well known Vera Bradley luggage and hand bags.

“We became one of the biggest Bradley outlets in our markets,” Mori said.

Mori said the company blazed trails in computerizing their operations and moving into e-commerce.

But success wasn’t just about profit-and-loss, said Lauer. Friends, faith and community also counted.

Longtime friend Bill Arndt recalled how he and his wife met the Moris at a New Year’s Eve party in 1960. They quickly bonded.

“I was fairly new to Atlanta, having grown up in Texas,” Arndt said. “As it worked out, the next day it was Texas and Ole Miss in the Sugar Bowl. Jean was a big fan of Ole Miss. We made a five-dollar bet on the game and I won, and Mori never let me forget it.”

Arndt said Lauer later told him of their tight-knit social group, “I never saw you guys when you weren’t laughing.”

Jean was a board member of the Metro Atlanta Chamber and was named its small-business person of the year in 1987. Other accolades included induction into the Georgia Tech engineering hall of fame. He was a past president of the National Luggage Dealers Association.

Betty Mori’s star shone as she served as a Wesleyan College trustee and tackled policy issues for the state’s technical schools and adult literacy programs, the Georgia Conservancy and Emory University.

Both were deeply involved in the Lutheran Church, with Jean Mori serving as church council chair at several congregations.

El Paso, Texas-based Jerry Allman, President of a similar family-owned luggage and gift business, counts Jean Mori as a mentor.

He recalled Mori teaching conference breakout sessions on such topics as how to negotiate leases with malls.

“Jean was an expert in that area,” he said, adding that Mori also guided him as he rose in the NLDA.

The Moris sold the business in 2018, though it still carries their name.

The couple is survived by three children: Liz Mori Lauer (Peter), John Mori (Anne), and George Mori (Katie) and eight grandchildren. A virtual memorial service was held Dec. 12.

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