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ACS-2014: Third Place -Modern Eye

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Modern Eye, Philadelphia, PA

OWNERS: Dr. Chris Anastasiou; URL:modern-eye.com; OPENED: 1992; EMPLOYEES: (two locations): 17; AREA: 900 square feet; TOP BRANDS: Andy Wolf, Bevel, Caroline Abram, Claire Goldsmith, Drift Eyewear, Mykita, Rapp Limited, Retrospecs & Co.; FACEBOOK: facebook.com/moderneye.fb


MODERN EYE IS NOT just a place to shop for eyewear or get an exam. It’s a place to experience.

From red velvet chairs to large surrealist oil paintings, “everything has a story, and we enjoy telling it,” says Mitch Gillette, the store’s art director. (That’s not a title you see every day in an eyecare business, is it?) He calls Modern Eye “a doctor’s office inside an avant-garde optical shop.” It’s meant to feel something like a funky living room — and the uniqueness goes beyond decor.

The business strives to carry hard-to-find frames from a variety of small, independent companies while still offering packages to suit every budget. “Our customers range from students to people looking for hand-carved water buffalo horn frames,” Gillette says. “We like to think we can help anybody that comes in the door.”

Dr. Chris Anastasiou opened the original Modern Eye in Philadelphia’s University City in 1992. He added Modern Eye Center City in 2005.

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The optometry practice builds on the retail portion’s casual feel. There are no white coats to be found. Anastasiou and Dr. Bryan Machamer provide eye exams, refractions and other standard services, but with a personal touch. They “take more time than usual and lump in tests that most places charge extra for,” says Gillette, who is Anastasiou’s domestic partner.

“The color scheme, floors and art make me believe that this is what an optical boutique would look like if you were Alice in Wonderland,” says judge Rebecca Johnson. “The furniture is lovely and inviting.”

Customers can expect honesty from the staff at Modern Eye, where no one is shy about sharing opinions. “If something looks bad on somebody, we’ll tell them, even if they want it,” Gillette says.

“There’s no better advertising than, ‘Boy, those black glasses are great. Where did you get them?’”

PHOTO GALLERY (4 IMAGES)

Five Cool Things About Modern Eye

1. MODERN EYE LIKES TO HIRE FORMER RESTAURANT EMPLOYEES. “They’re organized, they multitask, they think on their feet,” Gillette says. “If we can find somebody with those qualities, it totally trumps having experience in the field.”

2. GILLETTE LIKES TO INCLUDE IMAGES OF PEOPLE WITH EYEBALLS FOR HEADS IN THE STORE’S ADVERTISING. One such character, the “Modern Eye Guy,” was featured in a 2009 textbook, Brand/Story: Ralph, Vera, Johnny, Billy, and Other Adventures in Fashion Branding. Author Joseph Hancock, a Modern Eye patient, praised the logo’s “nostalgia and sheer genius.”

3. YOU WON’T FIND EYEGLASSES IN THE STORE’S WINDOW DISPLAYS. Gillette creates displays that are more abstract but still suggestive of eyes or vision. “We don’t feel we have to hawk our wares in the window,” he says. “We can make a statement in other ways.”

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4. MODERN EYE’S FACEBOOK PAGE IS LIKE AN ONGOING POP CULTURE LESSON , with a constant flow of artwork and celebrity images. It’s all eye-related, of course, from a young Clint Eastwood in shades to old comic book covers.

5. TATTOOS ARE NOT A BARRIER TO GETTING A JOB AT MODERN EYE. They’re more like a point of pride for the business. One employee even had one of Gillette’s eyeball people — a woman in a bikini — tattooed on his forearm.

WHAT THE JUDGES SAID

  • Artwork is a bit overwhelming … cool but overwhelming. Very cool furniture. Sit down and stay a while — and spend money. Howard Purcell
  • They are their own store, with their own vision, with their own tastes, with their own brand of humor and whimsy. They are having a blast and can’t wait to share it with their patrons. Something tells me that these people smile a lot during the day. Robert Bell

 

Fine Story

Eyeball people, including bodybuilders and bathing-suit beauties, grace every employee’s business card, as well as the Modern Eye website.

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