BY DAN COOK
Sunlan owner Kay Newell holds a 30S21 Marconi lightbulb. On the table are the Edison-style G30 and Neon Flower.
// Photo by Sierra Breshears
"How may I light your world?” asks Kay Newell as a potential customer walks through her door. Newell, also known as the Light Bulb Lady, is the founder and owner of Sunlan Lighting. Hers is no ordinary shop. Aisles wind through towering stacks packed with light bulbs, many of them hard-to-find or novelty lights larger stores wouldn’t bother with.
Newell has no idea how many different light bulbs she has in stock. But she will tell you that when you can’t find the right bulb elsewhere, you’ll end up talking to her. “We meet the needs of people who can’t find the bulb they need anywhere else,” she says.
Newell does not strive to be on the cutting edge of artificial illumination. She does not carry mundane bulbs that can be found at any lighting or big-box store. She does not carry grow lights. “I don’t sell anything that can be used to grow marijuana. It’s not worth the risk to me.” She does not sell light fixtures or other accessories.
She also won’t sell online. And therein lies her value to her customers. “Online sales are for people who know exactly what they want,” Newell says. “People come to me because they aren’t sure what they need. I am extremely knowledgeable about this business, so I can help people find just the right light.” Newell pursues an aggressive marketing strategy. She advertises heavily in local newspapers, such as Bob Pamplin’s community weeklies, the Hollywood Star and Portland Observer. She partners with lighting fixture stores that send their customers to Sunlan and she will special order any bulb you want.
There’s a dark side to her business. Very few bulbs are made in the United States, which bothers her. Some of her favorites, the 150-watt bulb in particular, have been “outlawed” by the “stupid” government. Her personal “fun” bulb, the holiday bubble light, is vanishing because “no one wants to make them anymore.” Yet new products like the sunlight-mimicking Full Spectrum Light, well, light her up.
“People actually feel better when they use them,” she says. And the Light Bulb Lady loves to brighten people’s days.