Columbus, Ohio USA
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The Lamp Shade
Transforming Light
By Karen Edwards
May/June 2013 Issue

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Marianne Lannan says the decision to move The Lamp Shade from Bexley to the Short North in September 2006 was a good one. The business is celebrating its 40th anniversary during May with 40 percent discounts on selected items.
You’re re-decorating a room and already you’re fretting about color palette, furniture style and the nap of various area rugs. What you’re probably not fretting over are the room’s lamps. Why? Chances are you still like them and plan to keep them or you aren’t even thinking about lamps. Either way, lamps are like good employees – who quietly do their job, don’t cause any problem, and fly under the boss’s radar.

You’d think the same might be true of The Lamp Shade, a small shop that is celebrating its 40th anniversary this May – seven of those years on the corner of Second Avenue and High Street in the Short North. You’d think a boutique that sells only lamp shades would be, well, quiet and unassuming – taken for granted like a good employee. But don’t kid yourself. There is nothing unassuming about this little shop that crackles with decorating possibilities, and is overseen by an owner and staff that can’t wait to show you the beauty and majesty of the humble lamp.

Marianne Lannan, the Lamp Shade’s owner, bought the store, a Bexley fixture, in 1995. After years of wooing by the Short North, she finally moved into the area and hasn’t looked back since. Not only is the Short North a more centralized location than Bexley, Lannan explains, but it’s one that has become more and more vibrant. “Retail was moving out of Bexley,” she says. “Shops were closing.” The Short North, on the other hand, had Gallery Hops, the convention space, Ohio State University just up the road, and an active community that supports local business. For Lannan, it proved to be a good move.

“People down here are really into decorating their spaces,” says Donna Merkle who has been on the staff of the Lamp Shade for 11 years. As lofts and condos are built in the area, those moving into these spaces are either new home owners or home owners who have downsized. In either case, they’re often looking for a new, transitional décor – including lamps. And many of them find their way to The Lamp Shade.

“We’re serving a younger clientele now than we did in Bexley,” says Lannan, This group wants a more contemporary style – and the shop has kept up with their tastes, changing out the silk, bell-shaped, pleated shades that may have fit comfortably in traditional Bexley homes, for shades that are drum-shaped or pendant (for hanging lamps) and made of more contemporary fabrics like burlap. Lamp bases, too, are changing from Oriental porcelains and shiny Baldwin brass (think Williamsburg-style candle lamps) to bronze lamps with a matte finish or to nickel and glass.

Old-school service
That’s not to say, however, that if a pleated-shade, bell-shaped candle lamp is your thing that The Lamp Shade won’t work with you – for if there is one thing that makes this shop stand out, it’s what Merkle refers to as “old-school” customer service.

Thom O’Reilly, a decorator and owner of Tror Designs, Ltd., couldn’t agree more. He has been a regular customer of the Lamp Shade from its beginnings in Bexley, and moved with the store when it located to the Short North. “It’s attention to detail and customer service that keep me returning,” says O’Reilly. “Where else do you find custom lampshades?” he asks. “They’re not available anywhere else.”

But it’s not just the lamp shade that attracts O’Reilly’s business. Thanks to Lannan and her staff, O’Reilly can provide unique, one-of-a-kind lamps for clients, and occasionally for himself. “I have a pair of chintz lamp shades they ordered for me. I’ve had them for 15 years,” he says. But he also tells of walking into The Lamp Shade with an antique jar and working with Lannan to re-make it into a lamp. That’s where the attention to detail comes in. “Marianne helped me pick out a base, the harp, the shade and the finial,” he says. By the time the pair was done, he had a custom lamp for his client – something they wouldn’t be able to find anywhere else. “No one else would own a lamp like theirs,” O’Reilly adds.

Lannan says her shop has added even more customer service through the years: making the occasional delivery, for example, adding a lamp repair service and offering clients catalogs to browse if they can’t find the shade they’re looking for in stock. As a result of The Lamp Shade’s liberal policies and willingness to help, there are few returns says Lannan.

The Lamp Shade’s customer base extends well beyond the Short North neighborhood. As word of this unique store spreads, customers arrive from small towns and other parts of the state looking for the perfect shade. Lannan has also added corporate business, and a recent Internet presence is now bringing in customers from places as far away as Washington State.

Yet, it’s the Short North and Columbus customers who make up the largest portion of her customer base. You can see them walking across the public parking lot, directly across the street from The Lamp Shade, with lamps in tow. Or watch passersby gaze at the beautifully-displayed items in the shop’s front window.

Magical displays

Over 1000 different sizes, shapes, fabrics and colors available. Photo © Erica Woodrum

“We’ve always carried a few decorative items in addition to lamps,” says Lannan. And the staff pulls from this supply to decorate the window. “We all toss around ideas,” says Lannan, “but it’s the staff who works on the displays.”

It’s one of Merkle’s favorite parts of the job. “We like to keep it interesting,” she says. In the window, themes frequently emerge – sometimes related to seasons or holidays, or maybe the items are coordinated by color. Inside the shop, the inspiration continues. When bookends were brought into the store to sell, for example, it just made sense to bring in old books to give the bookends a purpose. The only problem was, people began to ask if they could buy some of the books. “They were old books my father had owned,” says Lannan. “But we don’t sell books.” The same goes for a few antique furniture pieces she has in the store. “I’ve had people ask to buy them. The problem is, I don’t know the value of old books or antique furniture so I wouldn’t know what price to set.” Consequently, none of the “props” that are brought in to decorate and inspire are for sale. They’re simply there to enhance the lamps and other decorative items, which you should feel free to browse. There are toss pillows and porcelain and china and lamps, of course. But if it doesn’t have a price tag – don’t even ask. The item is not for sale.

Still, you should know that what you do find at The Lamp Shade is usually au courant in the decorating field. “The Lamp Shade is very good at keeping up with trends,” says O’Reilly. “People are asking more, now, for different color shades,” says Lannan, as an example. Naturally, you’ll find a good supply of them in the shop.

Customers first
But Lannan and her staff also listen carefully to their customers – what they want and need – because, bottom line, it’s their wants and needs that matter more than trends. “It’s part of our customer service,” Lannan explains. “We’re motivated by our customers.”

Celebrating 40 years in business is an accomplishment for any small business – but for a narrow, niche-driven shop like The Lamp Shade, it seems especially noteworthy. Lannan attributes at least part of her success to the niche itself. “There isn’t much competition for us,” she says. O’Reilly concurs. “You aren’t going to walk into a big-box department or discount store and find the level of quality, variety or customer service that her shop provides,” he says.

Nor is it likely you’ll be given a glimpse at all the decorating possibilities. Merkle says she loves the ability to take an old lamp and make it look new – like transforming a cinder maid into a princess. “People come in and say they want the same shade they had on the lamp before,” she says. “But I’ll put an entirely different shade on it just to show them that the lamp can be given a new, completely different look. You should see their eyes light up.”

And the simple fact is, says Lannan, lamp shades are the kind of item that do need to be replaced eventually. “Lamps may last, but shades need to be replaced over time,” she says. When that time comes, wouldn’t it be better to take it to a shop that shows you the possibilities of lamps, a shop that inspires and connects with you, that offers the widest variety of styles and color, and provides the best quality for your money? That’s why The Lamp Shade is celebrating its 40th year in business. And why it’s likely to celebrate 40 more.

The Lamp Shade, located at 990 N. High St., is open Monday through Friday 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. and Saturday from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. They are celebrating during the month of May with selected lamps and shades at 40 percent off. For more information and sale updates visit and Facebook or call 614-299-6442.

© 2013 Short North Gazette, Columbus, Ohio. All rights reserved.

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