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by Kris Ann Hegle

SBJ Contributing Writer

Gregory Washam estimated he owns between 1,000 to 1,500 Santa Claus figurines and he's always looking for more. An avid collector, Washam has purchased many of the figurines at The Lampost Gift Shop.

The Lampost Gift Shop, which is owned by Carol Knopp, contains items from collectible lines such as The Walt Disney Classic Collection, Department 56 lighted houses, Swarovski Silver Crystal, Seraphim Classics, Harbour Light lighthouses, Tom Clark Gnomes, and Fontanini Nativities. Many of the items in the store, however, don't belong to a collectible line.

Some are strikingly beautiful. Others are just plain fun.

"I may see something somewhere else, but I'll come here to buy it from Carol," Washam said. "She's always so friendly. She calls me when things come in, and she holds stuff back for me."

For Washam, who has been coming to The Lampost for more than 10 years, personal service goes a long way. Washam mainly buys first edition and limited edition collectibles, which are worth more and are a little harder to find.

According to Knopp, calling regular customers about specialty items is par for the course. Knopp said she knows what customers want good service. Maybe that's because she used to be a customer at The Lampost before she bought the business in 1984.

When original owners Bill and Doris Meekins built The Lampost in 1962, the store was the last business on South Glenstone, according to Knopp. Over the years, stores grew up around The Lampost, and today it's part of the Brentwood Shopping Center.

When Knopp took over The Lampost, it carried china, crystal, bath products and other items. Over time, the store evolved to carry mostly collectibles, decorative accessories and greeting cards.

"I felt the need to narrow the inventory down to find a niche that reflected my personality," Knopp said. "I don't follow the fads or buy trendy stuff. I never buy anything for The Lampost that I wouldn't have in my own home."

At first, Knopp said, she was very conservative on the price range of the collectibles she stocked. However, she noticed the more expensive items sold quickly. Indeed, some of the collectibles are expensive, but the store also carries a wide variety of merchandise in all price ranges, according to Knopp.

"I think there's a perception out there that we are expensive and exclusive," Knopp said. "It's just not true. We have something for everybody here. In fact, many of our items cost less than $20."

For Knopp, the biggest challenge is finding space for new inventory. Although some collections are seasonal, such as the Christmas scenes in the Department 56 line, the group is always on display because collectors buy items year-round.

"We're one of the few stores in the area who stocks and displays collections in their entirety," Knopp said. "We put a lot of thought into the way we present a collection so there's a flow, and things make sense to the customer."

One item in the store has special significance to Knopp, who is a breast cancer survivor. The item is a porcelain angel figurine called "Hope Light in the Distance."

The figurine is the centerpiece of the Angel Fund, which Knopp founded. The Angel Fund is working in partnership with the American Cancer Society and The Kitchen Medical Clinic to provide free mammograms to low-income women. Through December 1999, Knopp is donating 10 percent of sales from the figurine to the Angel Fund.

In addition to community service, The Lampost also takes customer service seriously, Knopp said. Special orders are welcomed, items can be placed on layaway and the store provides free gift wrapping and local delivery.

The Lampost also sponsors many events that allow patrons to meet the artists who work on collectibles. When a new collectible is released, The Lampost often holds a special sculpture event to showcase the piece, Knopp said.

"When this business was first built, people thought it would never make it because it was so far away from downtown," Knopp said. "Now, we're in the middle of everything. I'm grateful we've increased our business every year, and I hope we keep on growing."

THE LAMPOST GIFT SHOP:

Management philosophy:

"We want our customers to feel better when they walk out than they did when they walked in."

Year founded: 1962

Address and phone number: 2652 S. Glenstone Ave.; 881-3742

Owner:

The Lampost Gift Shop Inc.

PHOTO CAPTION:

Carol Knopp bought the Lampost Gift Shop in 1984 and narrowed its inventory to collectibles, decorations and cards.

PHOTO CAPTION:

Carol Knopp says she never buys anything for The Lampost she wouldn't have in her own home.[[In-content Ad]]

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