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American Vision at the Court

Family-style service in the nation’s largest mall.

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American Vision at the Court, King of Prussia, PA

OWNERS: Dr. Gary Kirshner and Cindi Kirshner; URL:americanvisionatthecourt.com; OPENED: 1981; DESIGNER: Eye Designs; EMPLOYEES: (not including owners): 6 full-time, 5 part-time; AREA: 1,200 square feet; TOP BRANDS: Face à Face , Lindberg, Barton Perreira, TD Tom Davies, Lafont, Blac, Bevel, SALT Optics, Francis Klein; FACEBOOK: facebook.com/Americanvisionatthecourt; TWITTER: twitter.com/American_Vision


WITH MORE THAN 400 SHOPS and nearly 3 million square feet of leasable space, the King of Prussia Mall near Philadelphia has a dozen places to buy eyewear. Yes, you read that right: a dozen places to buy glasses, most of them chains.

But with its prime location beside Bloomingdale’s and frames that people won’t find elsewhere in the mall, American Vision at the Court has garnered loyalty both among customers and staff.

“We’ve created a family,” says Cindi Kirshner, co-owner and office manager. “We call ourselves the American Vision family. Patients who walk in here feel this honesty and camaraderie.”

The King of Prussia Mall actually includes two adjacent shopping centers, the Court and the Plaza, that will merge later this year under one roof to create the largest mall in America. In this high-volume, fast-paced atmosphere, teamwork is a must — and American Vision’s staff works hard to be sure that everyone who walks through the door gets personal service.

“Everybody does everything that needs to be done to make our place special and multi-faceted,” says co-owner Dr. Gary Kirshner. “We pride ourselves on our reputation as a mom-and-pop store with the advantage of being in a mall setting.”

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American Vision started as a franchise in 1981 with Gary Kirshner as the original optometrist. He bought the franchise in 1992, and five years later, he became fully independent with a buyout.

The store has always been in the mall, but it has moved three times — most recently to its second-floor location in the Court complex in 2014. It’s one of two independent optical retailers in the mall.

The staff includes opticians Denise Bonsera and David Shatley, who both previously worked at Optique, the first luxury eyewear store in Philadelphia. “We have too much fun together because we love what we do,” says Denise, whose interview with American Vision “ended in a hug here 12 years ago!” Adds David, the atmosphere is “relaxed, fun and family.” There are six full-time employees and five part-timers: a receptionist, an optometrist and three opticians. Most have been with American Vision between 10 and 20 years and each travels a good distance to work.

The store is open seven days a week, but — as in most malls — business is especially brisk on Saturdays as people throng the 1,200-square-foot space to select frames, pick up their glasses or have eyewear adjusted for free. American Vision carries about 20 frame brands at prices from $200 up to $800. “We like to buy new lines like Francis Klein, handmade in Paris,” Cindi says. “We have the best selection of frames. Each year we try to improve ourselves with our customer service and by having better lines.”

A former elementary school teacher who has been married to Gary for 34 years, Cindi started working in the store part time 26 years ago before coming on full time. She and Denise do all the frame buying, both at Vision Expo East and year-round, and they dress the windows. “Denise has expertise and flair and Cindi has the eye,” Gary says. “This has stretched us to become a boutique luxury eyewear fashion store. It also took the pressure off me to run the business.”

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Cindi manages day-to-day operations and every staff member answers the phone and responds to emails. “We’re a well-oiled machine,” she says. “We distinguish ourselves with our staff. We have a good flow and we offer our customers a pleasant experience. They have fun with us!”

A majority of American Vision’s customers are between ages 30 and 65. On busy days, Gary may carry out 12 to 15 eye exams. The store has one full testing lane with all the latest equipment including a Marco TRS-5100 automated refractor and Optovue’s iScan digital eye scanner. American Vision also has its own finishing lab where it cuts about 75 jobs a week. “We have a top-notch lab and we work at a quick pace,” Gary says. “We don’t just sell eyeglasses. We do complete medical exams and offer contact lenses, too.”

Because the Kirshners trust their staff, they can take one vacation each year. (Five years ago, they didn’t take any vacations at all.) “We enjoy life,” Cindi says. “We’re together 24 hours a day, seven days a week and we still love each other!”

Gary believes American Vision at the Court stands out from the big discount retailers because the business focuses on service and handpicked quality eyewear. “We’ve developed a culture of reputation,” he says, adding that people sense that his staff really know what they’re talking about. “We’re not a chain. We’re private. Patients see our beautiful store and get that feeling of warmth.”

PHOTO GALLERY (7 IMAGES)

Five Cool Things About American Vision at the Court

1. SIX-FOOT OVERSIZED EYEGLASSES.  made from reclaimed lumber and steel are the focal point of the store’s decor. The Kirshners commissioned the work from Peter Trout Gard, a sculptor.

2. DR. GARY IS A HUGE GRATEFUL DEAD FAN. He quotes from “Days Between” by the band’s lyricist, Robert Hunter, to explain how his store has evolved: “Once we grew into our shoes, we told them where to go, walked halfway around the world, on promise of the glow …”

3. HALF OF AMERICAN VISION’S BUSINESS comes from outside prescriptions. Customers visit with an Rx from another eye doctor because they prefer American Vision’s choice of frames.

4. DR. GARY REMEMBERS EVERYTHING AND EVERYONE. Gordon Aderman, a patient, says, “Dr. Gary is like a member of the family who remembers everything. We’re both big readers so we share book ideas. We travel and they travel so we talk about where to visit.” Another patient, Etta Szeftel, says she gets “outstanding service. I trust Gary and Cindi. I love their products and their people. I feel comfortable here and my husband comes here, too.” Customers love the store so much they bring visiting relatives to shop there.

5. ANYONE WHO WALKS THROUGH THE DOOR.  can get free adjustments whether they’re a patient or not. Gary believes this incentive brings repeat business.

Fine Story

Ten years ago, the Kirshners’ daughter, Ariel, was having her hair cut in a salon downstairs in the mall. She and the young woman washing her hair were chatting about work. The woman mentioned she also worked part time at an optical store but was not happy there. Ariel said, “Oh, my parents own the optical store upstairs and I know they are looking for part-time help.” Gary and Cindi went downstairs to meet Giulia Tinari and hired her. She fell in love with optics. After six years working at American Vision, she left to attend optometry school and now works as Gary’s part-time optometrist. Giulia’s younger sister, Paola, even joined the staff and wants to go to optometry school, too.

Carol Gilhawley is a contributing writer for INVISION.

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