Don’t tell me you haven’t done it–found something in a store, then guiltily taken out your phone to find a better deal on Amazon, Craig’s List or eBay.
You could argue with your guilty ol’ self and say that in the days before apps, it was similar to heading into the tire store with a newspaper add of a competitor’s price and asking them to beat it. But now, you just have to click the little button and the over-stressed Amazonians are already whisking down their sweatshop canyons of shelves to get your order out the conveyor belt before you reach your car–with the retail owner, like your dog at the beginning of your work day, watching and your “Buy American” bumper sticker roll away.
In the early 1960s, Tom Beuthien was called in for the unheard of–an exit interview at Ford Tractor. “Nobody ever leaves Ford,” he was told by the bewildered HR guy. Beuthien replied that a book asked him to ask himself one question.
“If you get the best job where you work, is it the job you want?”
And it wasn’t.
So he joined his father-in-law in business at their small lamp store–along with a shade-making company in Detroit and eventually got his own place in an historic building in downtown Rochester, Michigan.
Tom’s two sons represent both hemispheres of the brain; if Bill, with an art major, can dream it up, Jim, with his degree as a metal smith, can build it. Through difficult recessions the Village Lamp Shop continues, but has needed to reinvent itself–particularly with online rivals.
“Stores like ours became showplaces for the internet,” Tom’s son Jim added. “Folks would come in to see a lamp that they saw online and see it in person so they could order it online.”
As customers drifted away, the family prepared for Jim’s wedding–and discovered the Uplight. “He needed centerpieces,” adds Bill, “and we’re notoriously cheap.” Adopting a Rat-Pack, Vegas-lounge look with retro-fabric, they made their own stand-alone lamps with their grandfather’s shade-making equipment. The wedding guests wondered where they could order them which led them to Vegas and a trade-show that worked out very nicely.
On the eve of their second trade-show with their inventory of cylinders the crash of 2008 happened and they sold maybe four–which led to their focusing instead on their store and their own ingenuity. Through found-object art, Jim creates spaceship lamps that look like they fell off a 1950’s sci-fi movie poster.
And both were challenged by a friend who thought it would be cool to turn a drive-in speaker into a night light. “Not as easy as you’d think,” adds Bill.
At their annual Holiday open-house, with food and beverages, Tom discusses the unique blend of craftsmanship, museum work and scrounging that goes into a specialty lamp store, being able to satisfy only half the people come in with their requests for hardware and glass.
“About 80% of the lamps in the store are made by the boys,” Tom points out. Bill and Jim are often asked to create lamps to complete a space–from upscale Birmingham restaurants to large open corners in people’s homes. But the ingenuity was passed down from Tom, who was asked by Gordie Howe to transform his bust into a more modest lamp–probably to avoid much harassment from his Red Wing teammates.
It’s pretty hard to not take a deep cleansing breath when you enter the store with its warm, comfortable vibe. Then your blood pressure drops even more when you head out the back to Bill’s design studio in the carriage house once inhabited by a cow. Bill’s dog looking up at you from the window-seat.
So, perhaps the Beuthiens have discovered one way to combat Emperor Bezos and his army of workers breaking down regularly into tears–sadly caused by cheapskates like me with well-deserved carpal-tunnel syndrome flipping through our phones in Aisle 23.
See MMD’s video story below on the Beuthien’s Village Lamp Shop at
139 Romeo St, Rochester, MI 48307 – (248) 651-5714.