As Del Acosta shopped at Lowes for a basic, alley floodlight, another kind of light a few aisles over was pulling on his heartstrings: a chubby, retro-style, 40-watt incandescent light bulb that looks like Thomas Edison might have had made it a century ago.
"It's a handsome bulb," said Acosta, the one-time historic preservation chief for the city of Tampa. "I have a few antique lamps in my living room, and I'll be putting those bulbs in there. They have such a nice warm glow."
Retro products like antique bulbs, vacuum tube radios, Airstream trailers and old-school typewriters are a small, but strengthening segment of consumer culture – as baby boomers and high school hipsters crave an anti-high-tech show of authenticity and nostalgia.
In stores like Target and Walmart, 60-inch 3D HDTVs sit just a few yards from $70 record players, when vinyl records by all rights should have been obsolete decades ago and leapfrogged by CDs, music downloading and now Pandora streaming music.
"Brooklyn right now is ground zero for retro, with guys growing crazy old-school mustaches and every restaurant is designed intentionally to look like they're something out of the 20s," said Marian Berelowitz, editor at the trend-spotting group JWT Intelligence. "We see this as a manifestation of objectifying objects – the idea of replacing virtual worlds with physical counterparts – people fetishizing tactile things."
The modern world is so full of perfect flat-screens and virtual, always-connected services from a digital "cloud," Berelowitz said, that people feel drawn to a low-tech world with a human touch and feel. The imperfection and iron heft of a typewriter or orange glow of an old light bulb suddenly has strong emotional draw.
That appeal is turning into a vast product landscape.
Some of the most popular bicycles are swoopy Schwinn-style designs that might have been seen on the boardwalks of the 1920s, complete with wicker baskets on the front, perhaps chased down by people on retro-style Vespa motor scooters.
Walmart sells a boardwalk-style bike for less than $150 – upstaging the mountain bikes with high-tech hydraulic shocks. Fiat recently re-introduced a retro-style mini-sedan car to the United States after decades away from the U.S. market.
Facebook officials believed in the trend so much that they spent about $1 billion to acquire the digital photo company Instagram, whose whole ethos is using high-end smart phones to create and share digital photos with an imperfect image and antique patina.
The Bulbrite company from Moonachie, N.J., started making antique-style light bulbs about 10 years ago as a niche project that stood apart from the company's compact-fluorescent and commercial lights. Since then, the specialty market increased twofold, said company president Cathy Choi.
"We've seen this big increase in nostalgic items," Choi said. "People do have things like iPads and iPhones, but there are still those nostalgic things we like to hold on to like physical photos. They're about memories. Something old. Something new."
Lowes started stocking more retro fixtures to capitalize on nostalgia, said spokeswoman Jaclyn Pardini, and unlike pocket lights hidden in the ceiling, many retro lights have open spaces to prominently display antique-style bulbs.
"The past-is-present trend has been emerging in lighting as many consumers are inspired by Edison-style vintage blubs," Partini said, drawing on an industrial trend of detailed metals and exposed lights.
The Crosley audio company has seen a huge resurgence in its retro-style gadgets, and now has its turntables and corded telephones in stores like Target, whose whole brand embodies freshness and modern style.
"For the boomer generation, as they get older, I think there's a sense of nostalgia, their youth, a more carefree and optimistic time," said spokeswoman Stephanie Caudill. "For the younger generation, there's a sense of novelty. Maybe they've seen vintage turntables in movies, and there's a romantic appeal."
While Urban Outfitters has sold Crosley turntables for years, Walmart, Target and Kohl's recently started selling Crosley turntables, and Walmart will expand the lineup later this year.
Just as more digital cameras become more sleek, smaller and outfitted with touch-screen controls, Canon recently introduced the PowerShot GX 1 digital camera, made with a deliberately boxy design and manual buttons and levers, akin to cameras made 60 years ago. Price: $800.
The iconic silver trailer company Airstream has seen a resurgence and sales rose 9 percent over last year.
Apple merged the high- and low-tech worlds to a degree by starting to sell custom-made letter-press greeting cards. Users of Apple's iPhoto software can upload images to Apple, which sends the images to a printing house where technicians use decades-old Heidelberg equipment to press images in hard, cardstock paper.
Taking this trend to a new level, inventor and hacking-culture enthusiast Jack Zylkin of Philadelphia started refitting antique-style typewriters with USB links to iPads, so users can peck away on the typewriter to write out their emails, tweets and text messages.
Marketing through the website usbtypewriter.com, Zylkin sells one 1945 Royal-brand, cast-iron typewriter that's outfitted to connect to tablets from Apple, Samsung, Nokia and others. Price: $799 plus shipping.
"The bottom line is you don't really need any of these things," JWT's Berelowitz said. "You don't need to make your own clothes or use a typewriter or put on a record. They're all more work. But that's the beauty of it, they're just more human."