Photos © Ben Klein
By Jillian Urcelay
Who Eyes on Broadway
location Hewlett, N.Y.
NUMBER OF EMPLOYEES 5
An upscale family business servicing an affluent community with quality and exclusive eyewear.
The shop which once had a suburban, homey feel to it is now dramatically different. Upon walking in, it immediately feels edgy and a bit moody with an upscale appeal. Dark cabinets, furniture, trim work and flooring give the shop a dramatic ambience. Color does pop in certain areas of the store—there are bright plaid stripes on the walls, a funky Marilyn Monroe painting behind the front desk, vibrant mannequin heads on shelves and of course, the eyewear. Frames line the perimeter of the store on mirrored shelving units, shadow boxes and cabinets. With about 2,300 frames in stock, there’s certainly a lot to see.
Eyes on Broadway is anchored in a small shopping plaza surrounded by stores that have been there equally as long. Owner Steven Agin, OD, an optometrist since 1975, picked the location and opened shop in October 2000. Agin had been out of the business for a few years when he got the itch to start something new. Familiar with demographics from the real-estate business he was working in, he knew that Hewlett was a wealthy community missing out on an upscale optical shop that didn’t just sell “run-of-the-mill” products. Agin convinced his daughter to jump aboard with him, and the rest is history.
The store initially only carried branded product, but slowly the entire inventory turned around. Beth Star, Agin’s daughter as well as buyer and office manager, describes the bulk of their product as being independent and considers that the biggest change over the years. “Independent brands are so much more interesting,” says Star. “It’s unique and in a sense exclusive. You can wear a frame and never see anyone else wearing it—and if you do there’s only four other people in town with that pair.” The eyewear store also sells some designer brands as the styles were just too fantastic to pass up. “We carry the more exclusive pieces, so when we do Dior we do the capsule collections,” says Star. “The Fendi frames we have are the ones you can’t normally get in stores.” While Star hand picks all of the pieces, she wouldn’t necessarily wear every frame. “I would not—no I could not! I think you have to be able to appreciate the concept. There are frames that we bring in that we don’t ever expect to sell; they are our investment pieces. They are amazing just to put on the shelf and let people admire their beauty.” But she admits every once in a while, customers surprise her and actually buy one of these expensive, over-the-top pieces of eyewear.
Brands such as Mykita (which is their top seller), Bruno Chaussignand, Harry Lary, Dita and Thom Browne fill the display cabinets. At any given time the store usually houses between 1,900 and 2,300 frames with an average retail price between $350 and $450. The newer and “more exciting” pieces are displayed on shelving units and shadow boxes lining the store. Customers can walk around the open floor plan and touch and try on anything they like. The eyewear is organized by company with men’s and women’s together. Drawers are filled to the brim with product calling for employees to guide patients and help during the try-on process, which would be too daunting a task to attempt alone. The staff is comprised of five core members who handle everything in store from the sales and dispensing to the benchwork that includes all of the tinting and drilling. “We don’t hire staff because our staff stays with us,” says Star. “We are flexible on schedules—we all have our lives outside of here, and we are a loud, rowdy group. But we are also knowledgeable and love what we do. That’s what is most important because we put our heart into our work, and people come back.”
Aesthetically the decor has completely changed over the years. The homey browns, yellows and greens have been replaced with a more modern take changing the feel of the store. However, the sentiment from patients has remained constant. “We still have that warm, friendly patient load,” says Agin. “We don’t run away from the neighborhood, we are neighborhood people.” This loyal clientele is mainly local, and Eyes on Broadway relies on word of mouth and what they do to push forward. “I think we are just fully engrossed in the community and people come in as a result of that comfort,” says Star. “We are local—we literally see people all the time. They ask us to order them their contacts when we are out to dinner!”
This past October, Eyes on Broadway celebrated its 16th anniversary in true “birthday” fashion—with a Sweet 16 party. Every October, the store treats its customers with an anniversary sale. In order to celebrate the anniversary this year, special promotions were offered beginning as early as August. Customers were given “scratch-offs” with additional bonuses to use during the sale. The staff also sold cupcakes all month long with the proceeds going to the nonprofit optical charity New Eyes for the Needy. Every Thursday night throughout October, the store additionally treated customers to cocktails and snacks to enjoy while shopping. “We wanted to thank our clientele for their loyalty over the years and thought this would be a great way to do it,” says Star. “When we opened there were nine optical stores between here and Cedarhurst. Since then most of them have closed, so we truly appreciate our customers. But I also think that competition is a good thing because it pushes you to do better. Knowing that we had product that no one else had—that to me was tremendous.”
That very first October back in 2000, the staff set up a candy bowl to celebrate Halloween. Children, teenagers and adults would stop by just to peek in and grab a piece of candy. That easygoing relationship between Eyes on Broadway and the community has grown exponentially. “It’s a very comfortable, family-oriented place,” says Star. “I guess we just figured it out as we went along.” Over the years, Agin has learned the most important thing to remember is to simply have a great relationship with your clientele. “Keep the consistency up,” he says. “Consistently good customer service—that’s what it is. Just take care of people, give them what they want and they will keep coming back.” While many things have changed over the years, that candy bowl still gets refilled every single day, and customers still peek in for a conversation and a piece of candy. ■