Living the Dream
Falls City Eye Care offers cutting-edge patient care and a one-of-a-kind optical shopping experience — served up in a stunning, century-old Kentucky home.
STORY BY HEATH BURSLEM
Theresa Martorana still doesn’t quite seem to believe it. “It has been amazing to watch this dream come to life so fast.” That dream is Falls City Eye Care, which opened in Louisville, KY, in December 2016, but began as an idea that came to her husband, Michael C. Martorana, OD, while still in optometry school. Feeling the profession sometimes missed the mark when it came to creating an authentic experience, he wanted to create an environment in which fresh ideas were given a fair shot.
He got a head start by having the good sense to marry an interior designer. Theresa wanted to create an optical that reflected his vision, one that was tailored yet approachable.
When the Martoranas were looking for a location, it soon became obvious that a shop started from scratch was the only answer. The location they settled on — a pre-World War I home in Louisville’s trendy Highlands neighborhood — says a lot about how this canny young couple has gone about building their business. To many, such a site would be an architectural curiosity, or a prohibitively complex restoration project. But they saw in it the perfect site in which to marry a cutting-edge optometric practice — and it truly is cutting edge — with an optical that “gave customers a reason to spend their money.”
“We have created a hospitality feel through our deep love of this profession and this neighborhood that is authentic,” Theresa says. “And it’s authentic because we live and breathe this practice every day.”
As a designer, she believes many optometrist offices fall short in the retail side of things. “[It’s] such a tricky transition,” she says. Their goal, according to Michael, is “authentic tailored eyecare” — they want patients “to leave thinking, ‘That was the coolest eye exam and glasses shopping experience I’ve ever had.’” As rookies, Theresa says, “We had the benefit of not being set in our ways. We were able to rethink every aspect, from layout to how someone feels when they walk through our front door.”
An unusually walkable neighborhood — well over 50 percent of Falls City’s patients get to their exam on foot -— the Highlands has a reputation for supporting local businesses. The Martoranas sensed the area would gain from more family services, including eyecare. In fact, Michael had his eye on it even before he’d finished school, checking in periodically and discovering each time that the area was still underserved by ECPs. “Through all our research we kept coming back to the Highlands,” says Theresa. The key factor, she says, is that it’s home to people who make it a priority to shop local. “It’s an area where small businesses thrive and chains tend to struggle. From the moment we opened our doors, neighboring families have walked, biked, and driven right over.”
The practice’s front yard is dominated by a 12-ft-long glasses sculpture that is, Theresa says, “our way of saying, ‘Hold up: This is something different!’” It took time to strip out a century’s worth of remodels and find the true house layout underneath. “The biggest challenge was staying true to the original space while making it function for our needs,” says Theresa, a nationally certified commercial interior designer. Adding “built-ins with inset LED lights in the optical are a great example of this,” she says. “Track lighting and display cases would have fought the home’s design, but the built-ins added to it.”
Patients are wowed by the grand staircase, restored dentil molding and the use of marble—a material Theresa chose figuring it will patina over time, eventually matching the building’s 100-year-old floors.
Eschewing frame boards and manufacturer displays, the optical not only establishes a consistent aesthetic, but also gives customers a free hand. “Patients effortlessly try on many frames, because they are not worried about getting them to balance on frame board pegs,” she says.
The Martoranas quickly moved exclusively to lines that “share our customers’ values.” According to Theresa, “they want to know where their frames are made, how we and our lines give back, who owns these lines, and what their environmental footprint is.” She adds that while Falls City has a boutique feel they don’t want to offer just one price point. “Good design is for all,” she says. “Be that interiors or frames.”
Falls City may be young, but the Martoranas feel they’ve made progress on the goals Michael set at the outset. “And I think if you asked any of our patients they would think so too.” In what may be the ultimate test, he admits to a “warm and fuzzy” feeling when looking at the store’s online reviews, adding, “I don’t want to let it fade.”
That doesn’t seem likely. “Walking into an optical full of patients shopping gets me every time,” Theresa says. “I think: ‘Man — we are doing it!”
PHOTO GALLERY (27 IMAGES)
Five Cool Things About Falls City Eye Care
1. DO IT FOR THE ’GRAM: People are constantly stopping by to take selfies with Falls City’s giant 12-foot spectacles created by a sculptor and welder who also works for the local school for the blind.
2. EVERYBODY DONATES: Dr. Martorana volunteers for I Care International, donating his time and travel expenses to help those in need receive eye exams in developing countries. Patients who donate their old pairs get 5 percent off a new pair of sunglasses.
3. CROWDSOURCING: Falls City has a set of criteria by which they assess all new eyewear companies and have it printed where all employees can add information. Staff weigh whether the product is U.S. made, supports local optometry offices vs. big box stores/online, champions a cause, or fills a price point they may be lacking, among other factors.
4. LATEST AND GREATEST: Having the latest tech is considered a selling point at Falls City. If you ask, Dr. Martorana will reel off a formidable inventory of gear, including a digital refraction system that allows for data sharing between instruments and the EMR.
5. SAVE THE PLANET: The optical seeks out brands like ECO by MODO (an independently owned company that uses plant-based materials in their frames) that are part of the “One for One” movement, planting a tree for every frame sold.
A while back, staff at Falls City Eye Care learned from patients that recycled daily contact lens foil packs were ending up in landfills because they’re so small they get sifted out of recyclable material. So, they came up with their own recycling program. “We staple a note on every contact lens order that goes out, stating that if they save their foil packs and return them to us, we will discount their next year’s daily contact lens purchase by $20 and pledge the foil packs will make it to TerraCycle,” says Theresa.”
This article originally appeared in the July-August 2018 edition of INVISION.