Dr. Arlene Schwartz’s new office may be right on the beaten path, located on a major artery in the New York neighborhood of Forest Hills, but the road taken to design the new practice was certainly one less traveled. With years of experience at their other location in nearby Flushing, Queens under their belts, the optometrist and office manager Elizabeth Geheran knew which elements of their practice they wanted to keep and which ones they wanted to change. To match their cool new surroundings, a fresh look was in order and that look was to be achieved in a refreshingly innovative way.
When the team set out to design the practice, costs were higher than they had expected. “We began to research optical furniture and fixtures, and were somewhat horrified by what we felt were exorbitant prices,” says Geheran. “Besides, we wanted our office to be bright and inviting; we didn’t want that old-fashioned stodgy look that optical stores sometimes have. So we decided to think outside the box. It began as a sort of bet between Dr. Schwartz and me. I said to her, ‘I bet we could do the whole thing from Ikea.’ She looked at me like I had two heads, but agreed to see what we could come up with.”
Dr. Schwartz’s initial skepticism quickly faded as they found that not only could they save lots of money bypassing the more traditional optical design companies, but that their unconventional approach also opened up new options for them. “The doctor’s father helped us design the layout and a man he knows did all the construction of the displays and furniture,” Geheran explains. “With the way the pieces are assembled, we can change them around easily if we ever get sick of anything. The frames are displayed on three different glass stands, each with five adjustable shelves. Sunglasses have their own section and sometimes I incorporate point-of-purchase pictures I get from the company. We got a modular cube display with wicker drawers for the front window. We haven’t changed around the setup because we haven’t been open for very long, but we could if we wanted to. Our other location would require a renovation to change anything.”
It is not for lack of display space that one of the most important segments of Dr. Schwartz’s practice—kids’ frames—doesn’t get much exposure. “I keep the children’s frames stored inside these drawers-on-wheels because otherwise the kids get excited when they see the first frame in their favorite color and want that one regardless of whether or not it fits them,” explains Geheran. “Instead, we make sure to ask them questions, like if they have a favorite color or TV show they love. Then we pick something for them. Kids love when we ask them questions.” Ogi is the best-selling kids’ line, she notes.
With so many families with young children in the neighborhood, many aspects of the practice are geared toward kids. As a matter of fact, the kid-friendly vibe is evident before even stepping foot inside. “We do a fun window display,” Geheran says. “The design scheme usually runs with seasons and I make sure each display is radically different from the last. Lately kids have been screaming ‘Pineapple!’ because that’s the current theme. A few months ago I designed the window from a ball of yarn. I’m thinking about designing the next display with trees made from rock candy. People come in to see how I’ve changed the window. We get customers who are drawn in by the window display.” And once inside, where the walls are a vibrant aqua green there is no lacking for color either. “Kids love the office because it’s so colorful that we don’t even need toys around,” she says.
But even with all the playful color, it’s not just an optical practice for kids. “Both young and older patients love it. When people walk in they always immediately comment on the brightness and comfort we have been able to create. We have two exam rooms, an updated lab, a separate filling room, sales area, waiting area, contact lens fitting area and reception. Dr. Schwartz specializes in glaucoma, cataracts, diabetes difficult contact lens fittings as well as children’s eye exams.”
The versatility of the office is well-matched to the diversity of the neighborhood. “We have one of the most diverse clientele I have ever seen,” says Geheran. “Because we have patients from all different ethnicities, we have tiny frames for smaller faces and smaller bridges. You can’t tell that just one person does the frame buying here because of the wide assortment we have. We try to find lots of bright colors. Lafont is our best line. Ray-Ban, Kate Spade and Vera Wang are also very popular.”
What started off as a bit of an experiment has flourished into a new neighborhood optical establishment and continues to grow. “We’re no longer happy with the area of our other location and the rent is out of control. We’re there for a few more years, so in the meantime we’re building up until this is our main location. We wanted to open our practice here because Forest Hills is undergoing some gentrification and is really lovely.” And even with all of the color the neighborhood already has, Dr. Schwartz’s practice will be there to brighten it up even more.