The couple in earlier years, after they first met.
Lights out for Dave Smith the Lamp Maker after 50 years
By Kathy Feist
It was 1968. A young bank clerk stood on the corner of 75th and Wornall greeting customers as they entered the bank. Sometimes he would take the time to encourage certain customers to buy the business for sale just a few doors down. Finally, after nine months, the person he talked into buying the business was himself.
In October 1968, Dave Smith bought the well established Modern Lamp Maker located at 7432 Wornall Rd. “I didn’t even know how to fix a lamp,” he recalls.
Fifty years later, Dave Smith the Lamp Maker is ready to retire. On January 31, he and his wife Bette will close the doors for the last time.
Smith had purchased an inventory of 20 lamps, 30 lamp shades, an odd assortment of parts and a promise from the sellers to show him the ropes. But after two weeks, they split. Smith called a friend who was good at fixing things. That friend, Al Jordan, helped him out for four years, working without pay and teaching Smith his craft. Over the years, many friends and retirees, some pushed out the door by their wives, would join Smith in the parts department to fix or make lamps.
Smith says he was originally uncomfortable with the name of the store. The Modern Lamp Maker had been around since 1932, relocating from Wichita to Westport and then Waldo. But the lamps they were selling were not a modern design. (The term Modern Lamp was used to describe electric lamps as opposed to oil ones.)
One day, Smith was introduced to a friend’s buddy. The man confused him with a popular radio spokesperson at the time. “He asked ‘Are you Dave Smith the Steak Guy?’”, Smith recalled. “I said, ‘No. I’m Dave Smith the Lamp Maker.’ And boom! The name was born.“
Smith enlarged the business by expanding into a Kosher meat market to the south. It now serves as the parts division. He also bought LeRoy’s Waldo Bar next door and renamed it Waldo Bar.
Dave and Bette Smith now and at the time they met.
Smith married his third wife Bette in 1987. Since then Bette has run the retail part of the store, adding home decor to the large inventory of lamps and lamp shades. The Smiths have been heavily involved in Waldo. In fact, Bette served the honorary distinction as the first “Mayor of Waldo” , a title she held three terms.
At one time, the store was listed with 60 to 80 area decorators. They weren’t just buying lamps and decor on the showroom floor. They were requesting customized lamps.
Smith has a large photo album filled with photos of lamps he helped create over the years, some requested from interior decorators and others from customers. Most frequently requested were winning footballs angled into a lamp post or an antique oil lamp made into an electric one. Many designs got quite creative using the likes of an umbrella, teapot, whiskey bottle, construction or cowboy boots, ceramic dogs, stuffed fish, antlers, even an old watering can. Smith had a long drill bit specifically made to help create the unique lamps.
Dave and Bette Smith have both cited health issues as their reason for closing. Dave turns 80 on February 9. Bette is 72 and struggles with diabetes.
“We’ve had great customers,” says Smith. “It’s been a fun thing to do what customers wanted.”