One of the quirky retail shops Austin is known for is closing after nearly 40 years in business.
The Light Bulb Shop, Austin’s “local lighting shop” at 6318 Burnet Road in North Austin, opened in 1980.
A note titled “It wasn’t an easy decision” posted on the shop’s Facebook page last week reads, “After a lot of consideration, number crunching, speculating, tears, laughs and hard choices, we have decided to close the business completely.”
Kelly McGary, daughter of owners Edwin and Traci McGary, has managed the store for the past nine years. She said several factors went into the decision to close, including the declining number of customers despite Austin’s growth, competition from larger hardware stores and changes in the lighting industry.
“I can have 4,000 different LEDs in stock and still not have 50 percent of what everybody needs because there’s just so many options and they change so often,” she said.
McGary said she and her parents considered moving the shop outside city limits, but she said that was not financially feasible.
Edwin McGary first ventured into the light bulb business as owner of Lamar Wholesale Supply Inc. on Longhorn Boulevard.
He eventually renamed the store the Light Bulb Shop and moved south to its current location in 2001.
The shop sells items ranging from incandescent lights for a church to street lights, and at one point it had more than 80,000 lights in stock.
The shop has helped light several projects around the city, including the University of Texas Tower and Sixth Street, Kelly McGary said.
Over time, McGary said, she and her family developed a close relationship with their customers, some seeing her grow up in the store, which she said is growing more rare in Austin.
“Just 15 years ago, this was a small-town feel,” she said. “You could go anywhere and know everybody. That’s being taken away, so we’re resistant to that, but it’s inevitable. It’s going to happen.”
She said her family’s business would always go the extra mile to assist customers, such as helping children with science fair projects.
“I know some people think, ‘Whatever, it’s just another small business; who needs a light bulb store?’ And I get that mentality because they’ve never been in here,” she said. “Yeah, we’ve had a commodity that’s available everywhere else, but it’s always been our knowledge, our customer service and ability to go above and beyond to really help somebody.”
With business slower, McGary said she didn’t think anyone would notice when she announced the store would close.
“I felt like I was stranded on a deserted island for a while,” she said. “You hear people talking about supporting small and local businesses, and it’s dry and no one comes in.”
But since the announcement, customers have been pouring in, she said, some offering money and investments to keep the store alive.
“It’s just been nonstop,” she said. “To know how loved we are is really neat.”
The store will take orders until March 27 and will close its doors April 15.
McGary said her parents will retire and she is still deciding on what is next for her.
McGary said she wants customers to know how grateful she and her parents are for them helping keep the store’s doors open for so long. She said she doesn’t want the close to be seen as something sad.
“It’s great that we have the ability to walk away from this with our heads held high and not in bankruptcy and debt,” she said. “Yes, it’s sad that we’re losing such an iconic thing, but it’s also the sign of the times.”