New Yorker Spotlight: David Brooks, Illuminating the City One Bulb at a Time

Posted On Fri, March 13, 2015 By

Posted On Fri, March 13, 2015 By In Features, Interviews, New Yorker Spotlight, People, Upper East Side

A block from Bloomingdales, on 60th right off of Third, is a store that every New Yorker should know about. The store sells 36,000 kinds of one thing, and its name gives it away: Just Bulbs.

Just Bulbs has been taking care of New York’s light bulb needs in one variation or another since 1945. It’s currently owned and run by David Brooks, who began working at the family business back in 1982. Since he hit the register at Just Bulbs over thirty years ago, he has learned as much about bulbs as people. And when it comes to people, they are often buying the wrong bulbs.

Wanting an insider’s look into the world of bulbs, I recently visited Just Bulbs to speak with David. In between questions, he was ringing up customers and answering questions over the phone. For David, today was just another day helping New York keep the lights on.

Growing up, did you find yourself curious about bulbs?
Sure, it was always in the family.

When did you realize bulbs could be a career?
When I gave up my management consulting career out in Saint Louis and moved back to New York to do this.

Do you have any special bulb training?
You only learn by doing. Like everyone else, I assumed there were three types of light bulbs in the world when I first started. I was lost for a little while.

When customers first walk in, what is their response to the store?
Well, they always see it cluttered, but that doesn’t bother them so much. They are usually impressed that we know what we are talking about.

Do some customers just come in curious about the store?
That happens. We’ll see a lot of tourists doing that.

You probably get this question a lot. Why sell just bulbs?
Well, bulbs don’t go out of fashion. They change in technology, but you don’t have to worry about the constant change of styles, colors, and having obsolete inventory.

just bulbs nyc, justbulbs, just bulbs

The store relocated to the Upper East Side from Flatiron ten years ago. What is the biggest difference between the two neighborhoods?
Like everyone else that doesn’t live on the Upper East Side, we thought that it was a stuffy place. Turns out, it’s incredibly friendly, more friendly than I ever imagined. We are happier here than we were before.

On a daily basis, what are some of your customers’ bulb needs?
Well, people always need a bulb for the inside of their oven or the inside of their refrigerator. That’s always the onesie-twosie kind of customer. Then there are always people who want to redo their whole house. The smart ones consult with us before they get the fixtures because the light is actually determined by the light bulb and not the light fixture itself.

We also do a lot of commercial work. We do a lot of office buildings, hotels, and law firms.

The most interesting job we did was the Christmas decorations for The Plaza Hotel when they wanted to make an Eloise display. Everything had to be pink. We searched for pink and made it happen.

eloise at the plaza hotel
Image courtesy of The Plaza Hotel

Can you share any stories about interesting customer requests?
The most interesting thing I think has to do with people who are not willing to change with the new technology. They are paranoid that old light bulbs can’t be had anymore. So, there are those people who are hoarders. We have people who buy enough light bulbs to last them the rest of their lives, and then store them under their beds and in their closets.

How have light bulbs been changing?
Well, there was traditionally the old fashioned incandescent light bulb that you screwed into a regular socket. Then to get more efficient, they added little halogen bulbs.

Halogen bulbs are more or less the same thing, but they are slightly more efficient because they work at a higher temperature and give you slightly more light for the amount of electricity.

Then, we put in the compact fluorescents, which were very efficient but no one really like them that much because of the color. But they have gotten better.

Then the LEDs came in and have gotten very good to the point they are taking the place of almost everything else except for low wattage incandescent bulbs. Incandescent bulbs above 40 watts have been banished by Congress. So, that’s sort of where bulbs are going.

just bulbs nyc, justbulbs, just bulbs

How do you feel about the new bulbs?
I think they are wonderful. They will eventually put us out of business because if bulbs last so much longer, people will buy fewer of them.

What’s something that the average person doesn’t realize about bulbs?
They don’t realize that the color of the light is very important. Most people buy a traditional warm color light bulb because that’s what they’ve always had, that’s what they’re used to, but in reality a traditional light bulb makes everything yellow.

The traditional colors only work well if you have ambers or mahoganys, but it really doesn’t work well if you have any other color in your room.

David Brooks, just bulbs, just bulbs nyc, just bulbs upper east sideWhat is a common mistake people make with bulbs?
The only mistake people tend to make is to put any light bulb into any socket. It’s important that the bulb be the correct shape that the fixture was designed for. Otherwise you are lighting up the inside of your fixture and not necessarily getting light in the room.

So, if you put a household bulb shape inside a recessed ceiling fixture, you’re basically lighting up the inside of the ceiling. So, it’s not very bright in the room so you buy a bigger one and use more electricity and still not getting enough light because the attic is looking great, but the room isn’t.

Do a lot of customers discover they’ve been using the wrong bulb?
Yes, they sometimes ask for the light bulb they want and we say “What are you doing with it?”.

After thirty plus years of working here, what have you learned about bulbs and people?
People want what they want and it doesn’t matter if it makes much sense. So, that’s ok. We give them our advice. If they don’t want to hear our advice, we give them what they want even if we know it’s wrong. Sometimes they come back and say we were right.

Do you have a favorite bulb?
Yeah, I like the full spectrum light bulbs. They are also being phased out because of the energy law. There are newer variations coming, but they are not really here yet. The ones that are coming are not good enough yet. So, to some extent, I’m one of the hoarders, but just until the technology catches up.

urban chandyAntique Edison bulbs in an Urban Chandy chandelier

If you could select a bulb that epitomizes New York, which one would it be?
I would select the antique light bulbs, the ones with interesting filaments. They are reminiscent of the turn of the century. It is an older style that New Yorkers once used, everybody used, but New Yorkers held onto it longer and they are bringing it back. They’re now available in dozens of variations. They’re really interesting.

Why do you think the store has been so successful?
I’m told that other people are saying the internet is hurting business, but we aren’t finding that. We are just here seven days a week and we can pretty much solve anyone’s problem.

***

David Brooks, just bulbs, just bulbs nyc, just bulbs upper east side

Just Bulbs
220 East 60th Street
New York, New York 10022
(212)-888-5707

[This interview has been edited]

Tags : ,

Neighborhoods : Upper East Side

  • Bulbasaur

    Bulbtronics is better!!!!
    Viva la revolucion

MOST RECENT ARTICLES

  • $12,000/month to rent this triplex townhouse beauty in Boerum Hill

    $12,000/month to rent this triplex townhouse beauty in Boerum Hill

    Renters can enjoy Brooklyn townhouse living in all its glory here at 306 State Street, a Boerum Hill property now ...
  • Millennial home buyers prefer DIY over going into debt over renovations

    Millennial home buyers prefer DIY over going into debt over renovations

    Millennial homeowners—yes, they do exist—are a careful lot, according to Better Homes & Gardens’ ninth annual survey of trends in ...
  • Have your apartment photographed by 6sqft!

    Have your apartment photographed by 6sqft!

    Did you spend months decorating your apartment? Is your home historic or quirky? If you live in a unique or ...
  • Express N train tunnel will close for a year in Brooklyn; Map shows the CO2 savings of CitiBike

    Express N train tunnel will close for a year in Brooklyn; Map shows the CO2 savings of CitiBike

    The express N train tunnel between the 36th and 59th street stations in Brooklyn will close for a year for repairs ...
  • The first presidential inauguration was held in New York City in 1789

    The first presidential inauguration was held in New York City in 1789

    As Washington, D.C. attempts to rein in the crowds on this Inauguration Day, New Yorkers can be thankful someone else ...
  • FREE RENT: A roundup of NYC’s latest rental concessions

    FREE RENT: A roundup of NYC’s latest rental concessions

    Midtown Rental Skyscraper ‘Tower 31‘ Offering One Month Free or One Month OP on Select Leases [link] Leasing Launches at ...
  • VIDEO: Watch the MTA clean subway tracks with their new Mobile Vacs

    VIDEO: Watch the MTA clean subway tracks with their new Mobile Vacs

    This past May the MTA recorded 50,436 subway delays, 697 of which were caused by track fires that could have ...
  • The Urban Lens: Inside ‘Little Odessa,’ Brighton Beach’s quaint beachfront Russian community

    The Urban Lens: Inside ‘Little Odessa,’ Brighton Beach’s quaint beachfront Russian community

    6sqft’s ongoing series The Urban Lens invites photographers to share work exploring a theme or a place within New York City. ...
  • Whole Foods will open a lower-priced ‘365’ store in Downtown Brooklyn

    Whole Foods will open a lower-priced ‘365’ store in Downtown Brooklyn

    Downtown Brooklyn is quickly becoming one of NYC’s most desirable commercial hubs. On top of hosting a lengthy roster of big ...
  • MTA backs plan to raise subway and bus fare to $3 come March

    MTA backs plan to raise subway and bus fare to $3 come March

    At a board meeting over the summer, the MTA began discussions about increasing subway and bus fare to $3 by ...
  • ‘Desperately Seeking Susan’ screenwriter lists Chelsea townhouse with a private yoga studio for $7.1M

    ‘Desperately Seeking Susan’ screenwriter lists Chelsea townhouse with a private yoga studio for $7.1M

    Built in the 1830s when this quiet, tree-lined residential block was home to well-to-do families, the four-story, 3,600 square-foot Greek Revival townhouse at ...
  • Pop singer Santigold lists her ornate Bed-Stuy brownstone for $1.95 million

    Pop singer Santigold lists her ornate Bed-Stuy brownstone for $1.95 million

    Singer and songwriter Santi “Santigold” White—best known for her singles “Creator” and “LES Artistes,” and more recently her video “Can’t Get ...

SIGN UP FOR OUR NEWSLETTERS

Thank you, your sign-up request was successful!
This email address is already subscribed, thank you!
Please provide a valid email address.
Please complete the CAPTCHA.
Oops. Something went wrong. Please try again later.