Monday, July 16, 2012 | 2 a.m.
Several years ago, Russell Millar was looking to create a business selling a gift that would be unique to Las Vegas.
The 49-year-old waiter wanted something more than the typical T-shirts and shot glasses found at gift shops.
Then the light bulb switched on — literally.
“I was thinking so many people come here to get married, celebrate a birthday or whatever,” Millar said, “and they go to that sign.”
That sign is, of course, the “Welcome to Fabulous Las Vegas Nevada” sign, erected in 1959 in the median of the Las Vegas Strip.
Millar’s idea: Sell the actual bulbs from the sign, which was placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 2009.
The sign has a border of flashing and chasing yellow incandescent bulbs, and it’s those 89 bulbs that sparked Millar’s idea.
“I thought, wow, how cool it would be if when you’re getting married you could actually get a light that was on the sign the night of your wedding,” Millar said. “And that’s how I came up with it. Just trying to give something original or unique to Las Vegas.”
So, in late 2009, the longtime hospitality worker contacted the sign’s owner, the Young Electric Sign Company.
“I explained the concept to them and they loved it,” he said.
YESCO agreed to sell Millar the used lights from the sign, which they replace on the first Tuesday of every month.
He set up an online store and created a company called Las Vegas Lights.
The yellow light bulbs are packaged in a satin-lined wooden box and can commemorate special occasions: birthdays, weddings, corporate events, anniversaries, personal achievements.
“If you were going to get married on June 25, you could go to the website, put in an order for that day,” he said.
A certificate of authenticity spells out the date the bulb was on the sign and the bulb’s specific number placement among the 89 lights around the perimeter.
“When they remove them, they start at the very top of the sign and go counter-clockwise,” Millar said. “They remove the lights in sequential order and put them in numbered slots.”
Having the sequential order helps tie the light to the particular event, he said.
“If it’s the fifth anniversary, I try to get them the fifth light,” he said. “If it’s their 21st birthday, I try to get them the 21st light...It depends on what’s available...The sign is historic and the lights are historic.”
He has boxes and boxes of lights, dating to late 2007.
Millar said he’s been shipping them all over the world, including to Canada, England, Germany and Poland.
The bulbs go for $69 shipped within the U.S.; $89 shipped internationally.
As the idea catches on, Millar hopes the business — still not very large — will eventually light up his pocketbook.
“I’ve just been plugging away and plugging away and it’s starting to become more popular and profitable,” Millar said. “I’m hoping for very good things in the future.”