How a Local Luminary Shops at BBC Lighting

Local luminary Abby Jeanne checks out the quirk y offerings at BBC Lighting.

Abby Jeanne can’t live without red lightbulbs. When she travels, and she travels a lot, she brings them with her and screws them into the lamps wherever she stays. And at her “psychedelic house” in Oak Creek, she turns on moody red lights in the evening. Today, she’s shopping for red lightbulbs at BBC Lighting in the Menomonee Valley.

BBC Lighting traces its history to the 1970s, when owner Hank Albert first got into the business by buying, simply enough, a bunch of lightbulbs. They were difficult to resell, as he found out, but he kept at it. Now, BBC stocks more than half a million different fixtures and thousands of varieties of lampshades for buyers around the country. Plus whatever else Albert feels like selling, as Abby finds out.

Near the entrance, there’s a popcorn machine, a broad Big Bertha slot machine and a children’s carousel. “I could use a carousel in my house,” she says, admiring it.

The store has no “psychedelic” section, but it does contain many lightbulbs in a range of colors. Not one of them is red, but Abby doesn’t seem too upset – her attention is soon drawn elsewhere.

Photo by Kenny Yoo

Throughout the store are antiques and relics and signed celebrity portraits. A suit of armor sells for $950. Elsewhere, Albert’s love of setting up mannequins shines through: a cookin’ granny, a wastrel with a flintlock pistol, a festive Elvis, a buxom lady resembling Marilyn Monroe. Nearby is old grocery store equipment, including a coin-operated ride for kids. In more remote parts of the store, an electronic dog woofs, and a gorilla mask and mounted lobster sing. “Collecting runs in my family,” Abby says. “My grandpa was a tinkerer, and he used to put weird things together.”

An Andy Warhol doll does not make the cut to be added to her duplex of curiosities. “When I was a teenager, I started going to thrift shops and looking for things,” she says. “Now I have literally two stories of vintage collections.”

She finds and winds up a small box containing a Renaissance-styled dancer. With a little help, the striped jester lilts across the stage to a twinkling tune. Albert comes out of his nearby office. “That’s a great piece,” he says. “Did you turn it on?”

“I did,” Abby says. “I love it.” The piece seems to embody the title of her last record, Music Box Dancer, released in 2018. (Her new single, “Get You High,” will be released digitally at on Oct. 4.)

Abby buys the box for $79 and walks out of Wisconsin’s largest lighting showroom. Toting a paper sack, she describes the store as “lighting plus knights, Elvis and Playboy bunnies.”

More 2019 Home & Design Guide

The “Homes Guide” appears in the October 2019  issue of Milwaukee Magazine.

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Matt has written for Milwaukee Magazine since 2006, when he was a lowly intern. Since then, he’s held the posts of assistant news editor and, most recently, senior editor. He’s lived in South Carolina, Tennessee, Connecticut, Iowa, and Indiana but mostly in Wisconsin. He wants to do more fishing but has a hard time finding worms. For the magazine, Matt has written about city government, schools, religion, coffee roasters and Congress.