The Light Fantastic
Lillian Strickler illuminates the personal touch
Photos by Charlie Neuenschwander
Lillian Strickler is 65 years old this year. The lighting gallery and workshop in Uptown 23rd opened in 1953, and while it was an anchor for a thriving shopping district at the time, the location has seen more than its share of feast and famine since. With recent reinvestment in several of OKC’s districts, especially near downtown, attention is once again focused on NW 23rd between Broadway and Western, and Lillian Strickler is perfectly positioned to capitalize on the urban boom.
Living in a world of myriad choices and planned obsolescence doesn’t really prepare us for the virtues of the pre-online commerce, pre-shopping mall days. Lillian Strickler is a reminder that customer service based on relationships is still the best way to do business. The modern iteration of the store emerged from Cathy Burris’ patronage of the lighting gallery.
“I was a customer from the mid-1970s until I bought the store in 2007,” Burris says. “I loved the customer service that (previous owners) Norman Bagley and Mary McPherson offered; I loved the warmth of the store, and most of all, I loved the beautiful products.”
Customer service has come to mean how someone you never see treats you on the phone, or how kindly someone at a register greets you. Aside from personal services such as tailors or interior designers, our retail interactions are very short and very non-personal. For Burris and her staff, customer service is centered around ongoing relationships, so that the purchase of a product is rarely the first or last interaction for the customer.
It seems appropriate that a custom lamp is the best example of Lillian Strickler’s comprehensive approach to customer service. On the day we toured the store, an unusual lamp — constructed from hand-carved and hand-painted blocks of wood in animal, human and plant figures — was sitting on a shelf, awaiting repair.
“This customer’s grandfather whittled,” Burris says. “He’d take these blocks of wood, carve these shapes, paint them and then give them to members of the family or leave them to collect around the house. This young man wanted a way to remember his grandfather, so we built the lamp for him. It’s back for a wiring repair.”
Burris knew the story, knew the young man, had helped oversee the original construction and knew exactly why the custom project was back in the store for repair – because the lamp had been well used, not from a problem with the custom work. This is just one story of hundreds Burris and her team can tell.
As Burris moved through the store, she talked about current trends, especially the newest fixtures that feature mixed metals. Gold tones are back; copper, too, and traditional never goes out of style. She pointed out pieces from Italy, where craftsmen seem to love the gold trend. A $15,000 honey lead crystal chandelier hangs just inside the entrance. As the light catches the crystals, colors seems to explode from the fixture.
“Many of our pieces are nearly one of a kind,” Burris says. “We tend toward brands that are not common, or not commonly known. Our customers like the idea of unique lighting. The newer styles take a couple of years to get to Oklahoma City; people see them in magazines for a while, and slowly but surely, the demand increases locally.”
Delores Hnot helps Burris in the front of the store. She’s especially knowledgeable about the processes that go into matching pieces to existing rooms or redesigned rooms.
“Bring your lamp with you,” Hnot says. “That’s the best advice we have. It’s easiest to find the right shade, and the color is never easy to match from memory.”
The shade counter on the west side of the store has a large selection — the largest in the metro — but it’s a fraction of what’s available through special orders. Finials are found mostly on the east side of the store, and Burris likes to point out that they are one of the best ways to customize a lamp or light fixture. In keeping with Lillian Strickler’s custom approach, they can also convert personal objects into finials in the rear workshop.
The store has the most comprehensive offering of repair services in Oklahoma City, maybe the state. On the day we are there, a huge chandelier is on the worktable. Phil Edelen and Natalie Green, a teacher who picks up shifts during the summer as an artisan, are busily replacing damaged crystals. The team is constructed around the idea that you don’t have to throw things away, especially things that have sentimental or personal value. After all, in this store, personal is paramount.