Although Seattle’s most famous (and fictional) conservative shrink and talk-radio host Frasier Crane may not be the typical Eyes on Fremont customer, his sidekick/ producer Roz (actress Peri Gilpin) is. Indeed, customers seeking individual style and one-of-a-kind frames at moderate prices flock to this cool—but not too cool—store located in one of the city’s hippest neighborhoods.
One peek inside this low-key yet uniquely decorated Fremont Avenue shop and it’s like looking directly into the fashionably bespectacled eyes of Stan Jonasson, the proud papa of Eyes on Fremont—both the man and his creation are understated and welcoming. A licensed optician for two decades, Jonasson knows the optical business inside and out. While he was managing another local store, he noticed that a lot of customers were searching for fashion-forward eyewear but didn’t want to pay premium prices.
Enter Eyes on Fremont. Ever since it opened its doors in 1996, this full-service shop has carved out its own niche in the Emerald City. “I have been able to offer fashion-forward product and good customer service at lower prices,” says Jonasson. One of the key factors that allow him to achieve this is his predilection for shopping Europe. “I tend to go to brands that are more obscure, and in many cases, Eyes on Fremont is the first store in the United States to carry a particular European (or Asian) brand. Today, many of our brands can’t be found at any other store in the western part of the country,” says Jonasson.
A few of the unique designers gracing the boutique include Booth and Bruce from England, Belgium’s Kinto, Blaze from Japan and Poul Stig of Denmark. As for a home grown name, the shop carries M+ a high-end collection from Modo Eyewear. While the frames available are in a variety of materials including zyl and titanium, plastics—in a psychedelic palette of hues—reign supreme.
Another of Jonasson’s secrets to success: private-label frames. His own house brand makes up almost 30 percent of the shop’s sales. Along with an array of eclectic styles, the Eyes on Fremont brand allows Jonasson to do lots of custom treatments, including eye sizes, temples, etc. By working directly with the factories, he also saves himself money. The average price of a complete pair of glasses ranges from $300 to $500.
Because of the shop’s large inventory (approximately 400 frames are on display from 30 to 40 different vendors at any given time) comprised of uncookie-cutter plastic, metal, and whimsical shapes, it has earned a reputation as the place to go for fabulous unique eyewear. And not just for Seattleites. “We have become a destination shop for people from Olympia to the Canadian Border—basically people come from 65 to 70 miles in each direction to find stuff here they can’t find elsewhere,” says Jonasson.
Eyes on Freemont also has an in-office lab. “Ninety-nine percent of our finishing work is done in-house,” says Jonasson. “The only thing we send out is glass—and we do very little glass. We do sell premium lenses and about 85 to 90 percent of our lenses have A-R coating.” He adds approximately 80 to 90 percent of Rx sunlenses dispensed are polarized. In business for six years now, Eyes on Fremont has relied on great word of mouth for keeping its cozy storefront filled with customers. Because of this, Jonasson doesn’t allocate much of his budget to marketing expenses, although Eyes on Fremont does occasionally advertise in local alternative weekly newspapers and magazines. With annual sales of just under a million dollars, Jonasson along with his wife Linda Jangaard, who recently joined him in the business, make a good living. This is quite a nice surprise to the modest Jonasson who started his business with just $35,000—and by ignoring his friends’ cries that he was nuts. “I basically wanted to create a job for myself, and I knew that I could make a living. But I never would have thought I would have broken even so quickly,” he says.
With a knowledgeable full-time staff of eight (including an independent optometrist that gives exams and dispenses contact lenses), as well as a warm, funky environment featuring a cranberry-colored “poster wall” plastered with the latest goings-on in the city and a sprinkling of black-and-white photos of stylish folks clad in glasses, Eyes on Fremont is simply a pleasant place to be… and shop. This, and, most importantly, an impressive regiment of fashionable frames make it easy to understand why Seattle Mayor Greg Nickels recently nominated it as one of the city’s top small businesses.