Seeing the Good: A Practice with a Purpose
A Lexington, KY, shop celebrates independent, artful eyewear while giving back to its community
STORY BY RACHEL BOZEK
Celebrating uniqueness and independent artisans while helping those who need it most, J. Galt Eyewear opened in Lexington, KY, in 2016. Owners Drs. Dawn Stratton and Heechung Ko had already been business partners at Stratton Eyes, the Lexington practice Stratton founded in 1996, for 12 years.
J. GALT EYEWEAR,
Owners: Dawn C. Stratton, OD, and Heechung Ko, OD Valentin
Area: 2,500 square feet
Employees: 4 full time
Top Brands: Article One, mó eyewear, Parkman Sunglasses, Papperlook
After noticing an increase in the prices of many frames — and a drop in the quality of some of those frames — Stratton and Ko decided to try something new. “We wanted to carry a larger variety of frame choices at better prices and we experimented by offering a few artisan frames,” Stratton says. “[These artisans are] designing fun, good-quality stuff at a better cost, but we found out there wasn’t much interest.”
Of course, there was interest. Just not among Stratton Eyes’ patient base. Realizing they needed a different location, demographic, and business model, Stratton and Ko established J. Galt Eyewear in a more artsy neighborhood, and worked out their merchandise criteria. (Not to worry, Stratton Eyes is still alive and well.)
Inventory selection results from a clear process: The opticians at J. Galt assess the quality and Stratton gets to know the artisans. “As a vendor, if I can’t meet and actually talk to the owners ... we move on,” she says. “I don’t want a big corporate entity. We do work with some bigger companies, but I’ve been able to have a relationship with them.”
Said relationship goes beyond good quality and good vibes. For Stratton and Ko, the relationship is always about supporting the community. J. Galt is heavily involved with Mission Lexington, a local non-profit that provides medical, dental, and pharmacy services to people living below the federal poverty level. Over the past year, J. Galt worked with the group to add vision care to its offerings, and established a clinic. “All of the doctors rotate in and out, giving exams,” Stratton says.
“We like to give back and we want our companies to have that same philosophy,” Stratton says. Some of the companies they work with already participate in charitable endeavors, and others appreciate this opportunity to start. “[We’re] helping these smaller businesses in different parts of the world, including the U.S., get a better start with their product, and at the same time helping them build their business and help their communities.”
Since its inception, J. Galt has been a source of buzz for its immediate area. For the grand opening, Stratton says, “Local press really took off with it. The news was there, and did some pieces.”
Beyond print and word of mouth, social media has also been instrumental in raising awareness of the business. “It’s where we’re putting everything,” Stratton says, citing Instagram as the strongest platform for J. Galt right now. “We’re getting ready to look into Google advertising.”
While she certainly speaks the language, Stratton admits with a laugh that social media is “not my generation.” She and Ko just hired an employee to handle marketing. “I always say I need to hire people who are smarter than me,” Stratton says. “I’ve learned a lot.”
After a year of sharing a city, the dynamic between J. Galt Eyewear and Stratton Eyes is just fine. “There’s no overlap. What we sell at J. Galt, we don’t sell at Stratton, and we don’t carry any mainstream products at J. Galt,” Stratton says. However, Stratton Eyes staff send patients looking for something unique to J. Galt all the time, she says. J. Galt offers “a way to bring all these artisans together and offer something really different to everybody.”
PHOTO GALLERY (4 IMAGES)
5 Cool Things About J. Galt Eyewear
1. Name game. The inspiration for the name J. Galt came from the 1957 novel Atlas Shrugged, by Ayn Rand. “In the book, John Galt embodies innovation and the hard-working individual,” Stratton says. “I just appreciate the work that independents go through to create something.”
2. Warm welcome. When Stratton and Ko found their location, they gutted it. “It was kind of a mess, and it was an old building.” They worked with a local interior designer, and since opening, several neighbors have thanked them for bringing new life to this old space.
3. On the table. A local artisan used old pallets to make the front desk; while the opticians’ tables are made of wood from a distillery.
4. Meet and greet. J. Galt lends a hand to its community by periodically sharing its 2,500-square-foot space with a few small organizations, including reading clubs. “They can try on eyewear. It’s a great marketing tool,” Stratton says.
5. New digs — in cyberland. J. Galt’s next move is to … everywhere! “We’re getting ready to launch an online store [to] bring these artisans together for people who don’t have a [shop] to go to.”