PHOTOGRAPHS BY MIKE TAMBORINO
One of New York’s most famous landmarks,
Grand Central Terminal is a bustling, frenetic
locale in midtown Manhattan. Scott Stein,
licensed optician and owner of Grand Central
Optical, knows well the daily ebbs and flows of
traffic in the fast paced historic train station.
“Most of my customers are commuters,” says
Stein. “They don’t have a lot of time to spare, so
they come in knowing what they want and we
help them as quickly and efficiently as we can.”
Stein’s optical business is shaped by the hours of
the work force—many of the customers stopping
into Grand Central Optical are business people
from the surrounding office buildings. “We get a
rush of business in the morning, in the evening
and at lunch time,” says Stein. “To accommodate
their hours we open at eight in the morning and
close at eight at night. People are coming in for
quick repairs all day long.”
Scott Stein is not the first in his family to grow
accustomed to the daily pulse of Grand Central.
His family legacy within the historic railroad hub
began two generations ago when his maternal
grandfather, Samuel Kamarow, opened up a jewelry
store in 1923. His father, Milton Stein, assisted
his father-in-law in the store in the late 1940s
and worked there until his business-minded
instinct told him optical would be a more lucrative
business. “My father noticed that whenever
he passed by an optical shop there were people
waiting on line. He thought if a business was busy
enough to keep people waiting it was a good
business to get into.” In 1964, he opened Grand
Like his father, Scott Stein wasn’t always set on
entering the optical business. He received his
undergraduate degree in accounting from The
State University of New York at Oswego. It wasn’t
until after graduating that he decided to get his
optician’s license from New York Institute of
Technology. “My father welcomed, but did not
push me, into the optical industry,” he says.
Judging from the devoted clientele of the store
today, Milton Stein was smart to heed his hunch
about the optical business and son Scott was smart
to follow in his footsteps. Scott Stein sees many
regulars in his store that have been coming in for
years. “It’s because of our strong following that we
were never hurt by recessions,” he says. “Since
people have been here five, 10 times there’s a high
level of trust. Because of that trust, people are
more comfortable spending money on high-quality
items, like lenses.” Frame collections from Tom
Ford and Lafont adorn the storefront window
and in-store display cases.
Because of the support of Stein’s regular customers,
Grand Central Optical survived during
what could have been a tumultuous period—the
large-scale renovation of Grand Central Terminal.
In 1996, a construction project was to begin on
the terminal and the stores needed to relocate.
“On three days’ notice we moved everything to a
tent in Vanderbilt Hall (the central vestibule of the
terminal), we moved our displays, got a telephone
line wired there and made a makeshift exam
room,” Stein explains. Over the course of two
years, Stein’s store was moved three times. However,
despite the constant changes, business
remained solid and many devoted customers
followed him from one location to another.
“Throughout the whole period of renovations, I
didn’t close the doors for one minute.”
The constant shuffling around did not hurt
Stein’s business and, in fact, ultimately expanded
it. The New York Metropolitan Transit Authority
helped the optician find each new location.
“The MTA was a great landlord. If you wanted
to come back to Grand Central Terminal once
the renovations were done, they would help
you out.” After a third move, Grand Central
Optical found itself on Madison Avenue, a few
blocks away from its original location. When
the construction wrapped up in October 1998,
Stein decided to keep the Madison Avenue
location in addition to reopening in the terminal.
Having a store in plain view of so many passersby
has proved helpful for a new philanthropic
project the dispensary began several months ago.
In the storefront window sits a donation basket
for eyewear that is donated to Lions Clubs International,
a charity organization geared toward
ending preventable blindness. “So many people
have spare pairs they don’t use that if everyone
gives a little bit it makes a huge difference. Within
the first six months alone, we reached our goal of
10,000 pairs of donated eyeglasses,” notes Stein.
Grand Central Optical today is a lot like the
store that Milton Stein opened, but even stronger.
“When the store started out it was largely for inexpensive
economy frames, while now we carry midto-
high range frames from major eyewear brands
and boutique lines,” says Stein. But while some
variables have changed, some important elements
have remained the same. “The idea of service and
quality has been consistent since 1964—that’s a
part of Grand Central Optical that’s here to stay.”
And it seems, so is Grand Central Optical.