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A life in lights

Photograph of Yury Budovlya by Sharon Beals

By NIKKI COLLISTER

To step into Yury’s Lights & Beyond is to enter a palace of lights, a dazzling collection of one-of-a-kind sconces, mid-century Italian floor lamps and ornate crystal chandeliers overhead. But if you care to look a little closer, you’ll also find a truly impressive showcase of accessories, from gracefully shaped fabric shades to specialty bulbs to colorful glass finials.

The name is apt, for the shop at 1849 Divisadero Street offers much more than lamps for sale. Proprietor Yury Budovlya is also a master restoration artist, capable of bringing antique chandeliers and broken lamps back to glowing form with a skilled craftsman’s hand. Working dutifully from the back corner of his shop, amid an organized chaos of cords, switches, and lightbulbs, he spends his days deconstructing, diagnosing, and revitalizing lighting fixtures of all kinds.

An immigrant from Ukraine who had previously worked in a metal fabrication factory, Yury and his family came to San Francisco in 1989 looking for a new life. He found himself searching for a job with limited English and no job leads, but a wealth of determination. In those first uncertain months, he found Light House Lighting on Geary, whose owner saw that Yury was adept with a wire and socket and hired him on the spot. 

It was an act of generosity Yury has never forgotten, and the start of a new life in lights. 

After 13 years of learning the ins and outs of lighting sales and repair, Yury took a bold step and opened his own shop in 2003, just as his previous manager at Light House Lighting was looking to retire. Starting with four empty walls in a former antique store on Divisadero, he built Yury’s Lights & Beyond into a haven for all things lighting.

Since then, Yury’s unwavering dedication to his craft and his customers has earned him a loyal clientele, from local residents to high-end designers. He’s seen the neighborhood and his own industry change, which he accepts with grace and a dash of nostalgia. As with fast fashion and fast tech, lighting fixtures have also become more expendable, despite the shift to energy efficient LED bulbs. The lighting fixtures themselves, he explains, are designed to be replaced rather than repaired: “You just have to throw it away and buy a new one.” In contrast, older lamps, even those from the early 1900s, can be repaired and fitted with modern LED bulbs, offering both longevity and sustainability.

It’s taken Yury his whole life to build up the knowledge and skills he applies to each unique piece. “Even today, sometimes people bring in challenging questions,” he says. “I have to think: What do I do, and how do I do it?” As the shop’s sole full-time employee, there’s a risk that this knowledge will be lost when he retires. He does have a part-time assistant who helps with customers’ orders. For now he’s unsure if the shop will find an apprentice, but he’s willing to teach his ways to the right person.

One thing he does know: He’s not ready to give up the joys of his work just yet. A recent job found him fixing a lamp a customer brought in; it was for the nursery she’d been preparing for her new baby. After upgrading the lamp with a three-way light bulb and soft white shade, Yury says, the customer was so happy that she told him she would think of him whenever she turned on the light to see her baby. To Yury, who is a family man himself, comments like these “are like gold,” he says.

And so, the shop on Divisadero will stay lit for the foreseeable future. More than a retail and repair shop, Yury’s Lights & Beyond is a testament to the enduring value of craftsmanship in a city on the cutting edge of technology and automation — and a gentle reminder to pause and appreciate the stories of our city’s hardest-working business owners.

This article is part of a series produced by reThinkRepair, a grassroots group that has interviewed and photographed 40+ local repair businesses since 2018. Composed of a small team of eco-conscious San Franciscans, reThinkRepair celebrates the art of preservation by sharing stories of local repair shops with the broader community.