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Japanese Earthquake, Tsunami, Egyptian Unrest Bring Surge of Customers for Ramona Business — W.T. Kirkman Lanterns Preparing to Open Showroom

Kirkman Lanterns and Ace Hardware are doing finishing touches inside their stores. The former Foodland space on Main Street remains unoccupied. And San Vicente remodel is almost complete.

Some businesses can see an uptick in customer numbers during uncertain times or crises. One such business is W. T. Kirkman Lanterns, Inc. in Ramona, which sells kerosene and oil lamps. Owner "Woody" Kirkman, considered by some to be the "lantern guru of America" said Tuesday that the earthquake and tsunami in Japan seem to have initiated a spike in customers "from all over the country." He estimates that he sold up to two dozen more lanterns than usual in the three days after the quake. It's not unusual for him to sell more lanterns after disasters. Kirkman previously reported a general increase after 9/11 and Hurricane Katrina, and most recently a surge after turmoil developed in Egypt.

W. T. Kirkman is the only tubular kerosene lantern manufacturer in the United States, according to one of Kirkman's websites. Kirkman also states that his company is the exclusive importer and distributor for the United States for Gaudard Kosmos Oil Lamps, made in France. The company also manufactures many custom items.

Kirkman's new showroom and storehouse at 2291 Main Street are hives of activity as the three generations of his and his wife Dawn's families pitch in to make the lantern operation a success. Kirkman has 6,000 square feet of showroom and storage space on two levels of the building at the corner of Rotanzi Street. The company also is using 1/3 of the adjacent Teaco building.

Kirkman doesn't just sell lanterns to people preparing for the worst. Many of his clients are theme parks around the world as well as people looking for authentic lanterns for display as props or part of historical equipment. He recently provided lanterns for the "Pirates of the Caribbean" movie series as well as for an 1870 hose and ladder cart for the San Bernardino Fire Department and for a Warner Bros. TV show pilot called "Poe."

"We get calls from all over," he said. "You never know what's coming."

Among his popular sellers is the Dietz 2000 Millenium "Warm It Up" model.

"It has a detachable saucepan, so people can cook with it," Kirkman said. He also sells a lot of Champion models.

In addition to the new showroom, customers can still make orders online or call 877-985-5267. Kirkman also still has two stalls at the rear of the on Main Street. He and Dawn use a home office as well. This is the first time he has had a public showroom. His company has operated since 1984.

Kirkman hopes to have his new showroom open by the end of March. He also has branched out on Facebook with a page for people interested in historical lanterns. It's called Tubular Lantern Collectors.

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Another family operated business, Ace Hardware store, behind the San Diego Country Estates shopping complex, is also a scene of great activity as opening day draws near.

The owners, Ralph Peebler and Jeff Fabian, hope to have a soft opening "in the middle of March" and a grand opening a few weeks afterward.

The store, featuring automotive, paint, electrical, plumbing, gardening and cleaning products has an entrance off Gunn Stage Road.

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Meanwhile, the former Foodland space in a strip mall on Main Street remains vacant. There's no word yet on who will fill the space.

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is doing finishing touches to the remodeling of its Par Lounge. One significant part of the remodel is the addition of a deck overlooking the golf course.

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