For years, retailers and retail designers have squinted down their noses at fluorescent lighting. It is too cool, too blue, too harsh, and doesn't render colors well, they say. While fluorescent lighting schemes may work fine for low-end and discount stores, it will never, never make it in the higher-end retail market.

Never say never. The success of a recent conversion from incandescent to compact fluorescent lighting at the upscale Pike Place Market in Seattle may mark the arrival of fluorescent lighting technology capable of competing with incandescent technology.

Pike Place Market, Seattle's second largest tourist attraction, includes a North Arcade filled with stalls and tables used by vendors to sell fresh produce, flowers, jewelry and local handicrafts. Food products require excellent color rendering to create an appetizing image. To provide high-quality color rendering, the original Arcade design gave each stall an overhead 125-watt incandescent bulb in a hanging pendant fixture.

General lighting throughout the North Arcade and the rest of the Pike Place Market was provided with hundreds of incandescent soffit lamps.

The original lighting scheme simply did not work. Eventually, the vendors in the North Arcade rebelled, bringing in their own fixtures to supplement the existing incandescent lamp provided for their stalls. The tangle of extension cords behind the counters eventually began to overtax the electrical system.

Adding insult to injury, customers were unscrewing the soffit lamps and making off with them.

"We were literally running out of energy," says Robert Squaglia, Pike Place Market's operations director.

In addressing the problem, Squaglia focused on four requirements: more high-quality light; lower energy requirements; theft-proof, locking fixtures; and a lighting scheme that would be approved by the local historical commission, which forbade the use of fluorescent lighting at the market.

Late in 1997, Pike Place facility manager Jerry Johnson came upon a solution at Seattle City Light's Lighting Design Lab, which evaluates energy-efficient lighting products. The lab was testing an 18-watt Reflect-A-Star compact fluorescent floodlight with a locking base option, manufactured by Lumatech Corp., Emeryville, Calif.

Tests showed that a Reflect-A-Star lamp used 85 percent less energy than a 100-watt incandescent lamp, while more than doubling the light output, from 90 foot-candles to 190 foot-candles.

The color rendering of the lamps also was high quality. Says Squaglia, "I think today's fluorescent lamps provide full color spectrum lighting that is as good or better than incandescent lighting."

The historical commission agreed with Squaglia's evaluation and approved the Lumatech lamps for installation in the North Arcade of Pike Place Market. Following a test installation, Squaglia converted 300 incandescent lamps in the hanging pendant fixtures above the booths in the North Arcade. Since then, he has converted other sections of the Market.

Taking advantage of a utility incentive rebate from Seattle City Light, Squaglia offset some of the conversion costs for the project, recapturing the Market's initial conversion investment in less than four months.

According to a conversion analysis conducted by Lumatech, the conversion will save the market more than $12,000 per year in energy costs, labor and replacement lamp costs.

While proponents of incandescent lighting may continue to outrank its qualities over that of fluorescent lighting, the difference appears to be shrinking. As that process continues, it may become increasingly difficult to justify the expense of incandescent lamps in all but the most upscale installations.

At the very least, designers will have to think twice before saying "never."