City lights opened in September 1991 on the ground floor of a large office block just off of the I-5 freeway at Sea World Drive in San Diego. Brian Young, the founder of City Lights, had retired from being managing director of a sizeable retail group of companies in the UK. He moved along with his wife Laura and 12-year-old son Spencer from London to San Diego in the golden state of California. Brian was a great admirer of Americans and their lifestyle. He had spent many vacations in the USA and cherished the idea of retiring there. Unfortunately, going from a very active business and social life to a "what shall I do today" state of mind was not working well for him. Laura, a good class tennis player, was fully occupied with her sport. Spencer was in school, so Dad felt he needed an interest. A small retail store in a seasonal business was his idea, and that thought morphed into City Lights. Motivated not by money but by the need to be occupied was his reasoning.
Brian intended to be open only three days a week. The first location was only 1,000 square feet, but it filled his wish to have a destination and to meet a schedule. Old habits die hard. In the early days, City Lights was mainly a year-round Christmas store with only two collectible lines, Department 56 and Annalee dolls. Soon the word spread that San Diego now had a Christmas store, and their clientele grew, and with that, so did their product lines. Now the one-person business needed a helper. So, Laura, who had no customer service experience, was pressed into service. That was when City Lights proudly became a family business and even prouder when their son Spencer graduated from college in 1997 and joined up with his parents. What a transition that made to City Lights!
Spencer's first actions were to computerize and expand the company and its product lines. His young mind generated new ideas and promotions, started advertising campaigns and designed the logo. With this new energy, City Lights launched its first full-commerce website in 1998 with the then novel free shipping policy.
A few years before Spencer's graduation, City Lights had another important transition when Connie Jennings joined their team from the Hotel Del Coronado, where she had been a decorator/ designer. Connie is still at City Lights and is as talented as ever. Her merchandising flair has increased the customer flow, and customers love coming in to look at her displays.
When City Lights first opened, they were not open for business on Sundays. They had many requests as it came closer to Christmas and they changed their hours to accommodate the holiday season. When that particular Christmas had gone, the store went back to its regular hours. Upon doing so, they were swamped with complains from customers for whom Sunday was their most convenient shopping day. As the customers are always right, City Lights listened, and 31 years later, they continued to remain open 361 days of the year.
City Lights has been on an exciting journey. After expanding their original location twice, they moved into an empty industrial warehouse a short distance away on Knoxville Street. That space was transformed into a 12,000 sqft store with a 9,000 sqft warehouse. Before too long, that wasn't enough, and through additional expansions, they are currently at 40,000 sqft.
Not only did their footprint grow, but so too did the employee count. Year round they have over 34 employees, including a five-person shipping department, and that figure grows during the season. An emphasis on customer service is instilled in every new hire because, as a family business, they genuinely care about every customer. They feel fortunate to have professionals to make customers feel special while providing a high standard of service.
Both Spencer and Brian are in the store most days, always available and happy to speak with or be of help to customers at any time. Laura retired to become a babysitter to Spencer's two children, Shay and Torin, as his wife Elise works as an Occupational Therapist for the local school district.
Shay is a typical California outdoor girl and Torin a very bright young man. Perhaps, one day Shay and Torin will become third-generation staff members at City Lights to keep the family tradition going.
We take great pride in providing quality customer service and a pleasant shopping experience for all. After all, it is our loyal customers that have helped us grow over the years and we are especially grateful.
Being a family business is something we are incredibly proud of. We enjoy your patronage and hope to exceed your expectations.