Lighting the Way for Books

As digital reading technology has evolved, so has the Leveens’ company.

Lori Granger Leveen '79 with husband Steve
Lori Granger Leveen '79 with husband Steve

When Lori Granger Leveen ’79 and husband Steve helped introduce book lovers to halogen lamps in 1987, they couldn’t have foreseen the digital revolution that’s redefined the way bibliophiles soak in the written word. Twenty-five years later, the founders of Levenger—a purveyor of “tools for serious readers”—are now meeting the needs of the Kindle generation. The Thai Pad pillow, for example, provides an “ideal angle” on which to perch electronic readers for comfortable web browsing or enjoying a digital book. Then there are the ergonomic lap desks and tote bags that allow users to hold paper notebooks alongside e-readers.

“People are looking for new ways to balance and integrate old and new,” says Lori Leveen, who remains partial to bound books. “They are still reading, they’re just going about it in several ways. That’s where we’re trying to help.”

Levenger, based in Delray Beach, Florida, was bringing in revenues of $24 million by the mid-1990s, bolstered by products such as fountain pens, journals, and folios. The company—named by combining its founders’ surnames—relies on online and catalog purchases, and sales from storefronts in Boston, Washington, DC, and Chicago. Revenues have dropped somewhat during the technological transition, but the Leveens are nothing if not adaptable.

“We’re selling fewer bookends, bookcases, and book weights, but we’re selling a whole lot more cases that hold technology,” Steve Leveen says, noting the company focuses on “best of both world” technologies. “These are products that hold an iPad and a notebook,” he says. “Paper and pens have lots of advantages that people aren’t ready to give up on.” 

While he concentrates on trends in technology, the “look and feel” of their products is his spouse’s terrain. “Lori has an especially keen eye for quality and design trends, and you’ll see this in everything she does,” he says.

A history major at Vassar, Lori Leveen always figured she’d forge a career in international development. But after earning a master’s degree in business diplomacy from Georgetown University, and taking a marketing job with IBM, she pined for work on which she could leave her own thumbprint.  Steve, whom she met on a New York City subway, worked for a computer software company and was also eager to try something new.

“We wanted to create something beautiful and have some control and meaning in what we were doing,” Lori Leveen says. Their first big product idea came not long after the couple moved to Boston and realized their home needed more—and better—reading lights. Both are avid readers (Lori is partial to history). The company they created specialized in floor and desk lamps, but it also sold clip-on booklights for those who want to read in bed and not disturb their partners.

After researching reading lights at several stores, the Leveens took a chance on halogen bulbs, whose clean, white light was used mainly by circuit board manufacturers. The Leveens marketed the lighting as ideal for reading. Their motto: “Serious lighting for serious readers.” Within two months, they made 47 sales after posting an ad in The New Yorker.  The couple was ecstatic.

The lamps resonated with readers, who clamored for other items that made it easier to relax and unwind—with or without a book. “People would come and ask us for things and we’d go out and try to find them,” Lori Leveen says. “We got into furniture, then introduced pens and papers, and got into organization and agendas. It’s evolved over time.”

In the ever-changing world of reading, odds are you haven’t heard the last word from Lori Leveen.

“We listen to what our customers ask for,” she says. “When we’re traveling, we’re always looking for ideas and seeing how people are using things. It’s made life very rich.” Andy Faught