One in a series of staff profiles.
“Did you know that Dave bought the large Magnabrite magnifier for his nautical maps?” asked Starr. “For his sailing trip down to San Diego?” Ben replied. Starr responded, “Yea, of course, though I bet he’ll end up in Mexico.” Ben and Starrly (who also goes by Starr), are two of the Sales Associates at Adaptations, LightHouse’s brick-and-mortar store, and they frequently check in with each other about regular customers, people they refer to as friends.
Store customer Dave was introduced to the LightHouse and its services through Adaptations. As his vision changed, Ben found products to immediately address his needs and then connected to LightHouse Orientation and Mobility instructors as well as the LightHouse Changing Vision Changing Life immersion program. Dave’s shopping experience at Adaptations ultimately enabled him to get back to the things he loves, like sailing.
I watch Starr and Ben welcome customers and laugh with them. Every single customer, and there were fourteen in 1.5 hours, smiled while picking out their cane or looking at their first magnifiers. First time visitors are sometimes nervous but Starr and Ben immediately put people at ease by welcoming them and addressing their needs. They are sales associates, but in reality, Ben and Starr provide reassurance and sound advice.
We asked Starr why she works at the store and her response said it all: “I’m not here to push products. Our store is non-profit; we don’t make a profit. I’m here to help people help themselves, and to help them enjoy being here. People are here shopping, shopping should be fun, so I make it fun.” Starr brings her sense of humor and levity to any room she’s in. A singer since she was young, it’s hard to keep track of which venue Starr will be singing at next – maybe The Utopia Café in Chinatown, the Society Cabaret at the Rex Hotel, or Martuni’s. “I love to sing cabaret the most. People think all sorts of things when they hear the word “cabaret”; to me it means intimate singing – a small crowd and an intense song.” Starr started as a LightHouse volunteer in 2009 and she continues to volunteer. “I love my family at the LightHouse, from my coworkers to my store patrons.”
Ben has a similar sentiment about Adaptations. “I first learned about blindness technology while working in accessible services for Apple where I loved teaching people how to make their lives easier. At Adaptations I get to do that, but with more than just technology.” In his free time, Ben is a long-boarder (“I don’t know enough tricks to be a skateboarder,” quips Ben.) Like Starr he is musical and his band, Bear Lincoln, performs throughout the Bay Area at illustrious venues such as The Independent and the Noise Pop Music Festival. “I also find time to bike,” Ben understates – what he really means is that he sometimes takes long and challenging bike trips, such as his recent ride from Portland, OR to Crescent City, CA.
During this interview two suntanned customers, Jeff and Rick, walk in. After flying in from Florida for work, they’ve made a bee-line from the airport to the store. “I’m particular about my cane,” Jeff explains. “I love my old cane, but it was so worn I had to buy a replacement online which I ended up hating. So when I learned we’d be in San Francisco, I said to Rick, ‘We have to go to Adaptations. They have the cane I love, and we can try out others to see if there are any better ones.’” Jeff went on to explain that near their home in Jacksonville, there aren’t stores where blind people can try out tools like canes and magnifiers. He said, “You have to hope what you order online will be good because you never have a chance to ‘try it before you buy it.’ Even worse, it’s sometimes hard or impossible to return adaptive equipment that you aren’t satisfied with. I wish I had an Adaptations near me, will you open a franchise in Florida?” Jeff jokes.
The Adaptations phone rings constantly with calls from people all across the country and even the world. People call Adaptations because of the incredible customer service and knowledge the Sales Associates provide. Ben and Starr have made Adaptations more than just a place to get the things you need; it’s a joy to shop there. And the Store is often someone’s first step towards a life of independence.
The Adaptations store in the new 21st Century LightHouse will be larger, feature more products and will offer people even more space to try out the products. Starr reminds us, “We’re one of the only stores serving blind and visually impaired folks in the Western U.S. It seems like almost every blind person within 200 miles has been to our store at least once in his or her life. In our new building, we’ll be one of the best stores of its kind in the country.”
We urge you to visit Adaptations and give the products a try. You might even be able to hear one of Ben or Starr’s songs. Call the Store at 415-694-7301 or email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.