Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Bye, bye, bic

I’ve collected almost 300 lighters from our local beaches and streets, most of them from beaches in Puget Sound. Every time I find one, I get excited – I clean it off, look to see what kind it is, imagine its journey from wherever it was tossed to me, and then take it home and add it to my collection. Eventually I’ll use them to create an art piece, which I’ll enter into the RE Store’s trash art show.

Whenever I visit a convenience store (which isn’t often), I study the displays of disposable lighters – they’re inexpensive, brightly colored, and I’m sure they’re big sellers. I’ve had conversations with workers at these stores, asking if they have any long-lasting, refillable lighters. They don’t, and their eyes glaze over when I tell them that lighters end up in the water, where they can last forever, or until they’re eaten by wildlife or wash up on our beaches. “How about selling refillable lighters, instead of these?” I’ve asked a dozen times. The store workers look at me like there’s something wrong with me.

One day I went on a quest for a real lighter, and I met Mike. He owns a great little tobacco store in Bellingham, Washington, called Fairhaven Smoke Shop. I went into his shop, and started staring at his countertop, which had about 100 disposable lighters displayed, for $1.29 each. I looked around a little - a few fancy lighters were displayed on a shelf above the cash register, inside colored boxes. Mike told me they were refillable, and would last about a year. I explained my lighter fixation to Mike, and he was interested! I asked for a lighter that would last for more than a year.

Mike retrieved a small box from a bottom shelf in the corner, and put it on the countertop. “These IMCO lighters are made in Austria, and will last for the rest of your life,” he said. He went on to explain that not only were they refillable, but the flints and wick could be replaced, and the design was so good it hadn’t changed since 1918. He took one apart and showed me how it worked, and then offered to replace the flint and lighter fluid for free, any time I stopped by. I bought one ($9.99), and told all my friends about it.

I like to stop by Mike’s shop at his busy times, especially Friday afternoons. At first he tolerated me demonstrating the lighter to his customers, if there were any. The first time I did this, three people bought one immediately. Now the IMCO lighters are on the countertop, and the bic lighters are tucked away on the bottom shelf. Mike has sold lots of IMCO lighters, and looks forward to my visits. He just placed a special order for a lot more of them. Stop by and check them out, and say hi to Mike from me. And stay tuned for our next beach cleanup event, because Mike’s going to be there to help. Maybe they’ll be a special prize for the person who collects the most lighters, like an IMCO! Thanks for reading.

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