The Ghosts of Folsom Street

There was a time when it rained a lot in San Francisco. That Tuesday was one of those days when a figure appeared at our front door with a heavy lamp in its right hand.

The buzzer rang incessantly through our near-empty shop. It was just about closing time, and we’d sent everyone home early to try to beat some traffic, especially with this storm bearing down.

Martin was closest to the door. He most often is, since his work station is on the first floor. Rick was deep in a repair project upstairs — wrecked vintage silverware had to be ready for the Alexander’s holiday dinner.

Rick heard the door but didn’t move. It was Martin’s turn to answer.

The lamp almost broke on the door jamb, Martin recalls. It just looked heavy the way it was carried into the front room and lifted onto the counter. The owner, who didn’t remove their hood the whole interaction, sighed deeply when the shade stopped rattling.

A finger — seemingly marred by arthritis and age — pointed to several dents in the lamp’s neck and broken fleur de lis artistic accents. There was an odd series of scratches on one edge of the lamp’s base. It was as if this lamp were dragged from room to room, Rick says now.

The glass shade was in excellent shape, Martin points out. It was a bit off-center, but that may have been because it was banged on the door.

Working silently, Martin filled out a work slip with notes of obvious things to fix. In his experience, a handful of other issues would reveal themselves during the lamp repair and restoration.

A hand reached out to sign the slip, adding a note to fix anything the Biros found broken. Martin was about to ask for a name and contact information when Rick dropped a hunk of silver from the workbench. The loud thud was enough for Martin to look up at the ceiling.

After Rick called down to let him know that he was okay, Martin heard the familiar open and close of the front door. His eyes registered the flutter of a raincoat as the person turned left, moving quickly up Folsom Street into the rain and falling darkness.

The sound of Rick coming down the rickety wooden stairs broke the confusion at the last minute, but Martin was staring at the door when Rick asked if he was ready to go home.

Rick recalls that something about that lamp didn’t sit right as soon as I walked into the room. But it was time to go.

As they do, the Biros took the lamp carefully apart and began looking for ways to bring this vintage lamp back to life. Beyond the apparent scratches and dings, Rick quickly noted the age of the wiring from plug to bulb. They hadn’t seen that type of setup for decades, and it obviously had to be replaced.

As with all things that come into Biro & Sons, the lamp became something of a passion project. Martin and Rick would spend time holding it, talking through repair, restoration, and polish strategies. A week or so later, the lamp looked better than ever.

The wiring was an issue since what was in the lamp wouldn’t deliver enough power to today’s light bulbs. But, just maybe, the wiring was designed for the owner’s home. Better to leave it alone for now, the brothers thought, than having to replace it twice.

They waited for the owner to return.

And they waited some more.

Days turned to months. Months have now turned to six years. The lamp, with its original wiring, was moved into the showroom. It hadn’t been plugged in for years.

Rick and Martin came into work last Thursday. Given the season, mornings are dark. As is the shop, because why light an empty shop? As Rick found the right key for the door, Martin’s eyes darted to where the lamp had been sitting for the past two years.

The lamp was shining brightly. Martin knew it was impossible. The broken plug was hanging off the corner of the case. He grabbed Rick’s arm in a panic and nodded toward the lamp.

The room went dark before Rick could register what was happening.

That morning Martin told Rick to fix the power cord. It was time for that lamp to go.

So, let us know if you’re in the market for a beautiful vintage lamp with a whole lot of character. We’ll take your best offer today.