By Linda Conlin, Pro to Pro Managing Editor

In April 2020, when Connecticut optician Norma Brown opened ProVision in Hartford, she wasn’t interested in making history, but she did – and already had. In 2008 Norma became the first Black female licensed optician in Fairfield County, CT and next opened the state’s first Black-owned optical shop. When a sales rep who had done some research informed Norma of those distinctions, she was surprised. She wasn’t interested in making history. As Noma puts it, she saw only an opportunity and “let down my net for a catch.”

Norma began her entrepreneurship as a mobile optician on her day off while keeping her full-time job. It was something different that no one else was doing. She developed clients among her acquaintances and traveled to them for their eyewear needs, working out of her home. She then saw an opportunity to bring luxury eyewear to Hartford where people often had to travel some distance to find brands like Gucci, Cazal and Emmanuelle Khanh. Norma applied for an account with Cartier, and when it was approved, she took it as a sign to open her own shop. The Black Business Alliance, a non-profit membership organization which supports small and medium sized black and minority businesses nationally by addressing the gap in business access to funding, educational resources, and statewide capacity building, helped her with obtaining funding and introducing her to a support network. Norma also received a grant through Local Initiatives Support Corporation, a non-profit with strong community partnerships that connects public and private resources with underinvested places and people working to access opportunities.

While the pandemic was closing businesses in April 2020, Norma decided to open her shop one day a week while keeping her full-time job. Finally, in April 2021, ProVision was open four days a week from 11 to 4, and Norma left the security of a regular paycheck. Norma wanted more of a life for herself and to treat her two employees better than she had been treated in previous jobs. She reports that since April she has been going strong while having more freedom for family time and travel. While ProVision receives patient referrals from many sources, Norma is cultivating a professional relationship with local optometrist Barbara Dune to offer eye exams on site.

Norma said she is happy to be where she is today and appreciates the support she’s received from the community. She believes that relationships and having an impact on the community are a priority. Rather than showing off the latest eyewear collection, most of the ProVision Facebook page is dedicated to promoting community events for charities, the arts, and religious and educational organizations. As Norma is looking forward, she is giving back.