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This family-run business created game-changing lenses for athletes and sells them, along with a wide range of sports and safety eyewear, from a truly distinctive optical in Denver.

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Sports Optical, Denver, CO

OWNER: Bret Hunter; URL:asportsoptical.com; FOUNDED: 1993; YEAR OPENED FEATURED LOCATION: 2017; EMPLOYEES: 5 full-time; AREA: 4,200 sq. ft.; TOP BRANDS: OVVO, TacticalRx, Kala, Rudy Project, Cazal; FACEBOOK: facebook.com/SportsOptical; INSTAGRAM: instagram.com/sports_optical_official; BUILDOUT COST: $80,000; ARCHITECT AND DESIGN FIRMS: Bret Hunter + Sons


Bret Hunter

Bret Hunter

AS SOMEONE WHO played a lot of sports growing up, Bret Hunter learned early that for athletes, everyday glasses often just don’t cut it. After completing military service and using his GI Bill to attend opticianry school, he made it his mission to address the problem.

In 1993 he opened Sports Optical just north of downtown Denver, looking not only to sell eyewear to sportsmen and women, but also to offer them something better than what had been currently available. In the late 1990s, Hunter developed his exclusive Direct Lens Technology, which allows Sports Optical to not only offer wraparound sports glasses in prescription, but also ensure that the Rx is effective all the way out to the wearer’s peripheral vision. “Back when we started, there was no such thing as curved prescription sports glasses,” says optician and social media manager Emily Kincaid-Smith. “We developed the formulas needed to put a prescription into a curved sport lens without the distortion that is caused when conventional optical wisdom is used.” The business continues to innovate: When Sports Optical was forced to close the optical early last year due to the pandemic, the team used the time to come up with what might be considered its crowning achievement: an edge-to-edge prescription shield sport lens. (Specifically, the Oakley Radar EV Path in full prescription.) According to Kincaid-Smith, it’s something people have been asking about for more than 20 years.

Sports Optical also offers its own line of safety-rated frames under the brand TacticalRx. Almost everyone on Sports Optical’s team has some direct experience of hand-making lenses, and because the technology allows them to make stronger prescriptions, they can accommodate difficult requests. The presence of in-house optometrist Dr. Andrew Benson makes the practice a one-stop-shop.

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Sports Optical’s demographic skews to middle-aged shooting enthusiasts and military servicemen and women, as well as blue-collar workers, says Kincaid-Smith, but over the years it has put patients of all ages, from kids to octogenarians, in its glasses. “Our target audience is anyone needing to see while participating in the activities that they need or love to do.”

When not catering to the particular neeeds of snowboarders, skiers, shooters, law enforcement and shop workers, Sports Optical’s frame offerings run to the unusual and exclusive. Under the “Funky Frames” banner it offers (both instore and online) a range of frames from some of the most innovative and creative brands in the world of eyewear. Between their sports, safety and designer offerings Sports Optical carries a wide choice. Kincaid-Smith shouts out “Rudy Project Rydon Stealth, TacticalRx SOB, TacticalRx Little Bear, any OVVO frame and NW77th frames. We use high quality polycarbonate lenses for our high-wrap frames, and CR-39 lenses for our everyday frames.”

The focus may be on sports, but don’t expect floor-to-ceiling posters of famous athletes here: Sports Optical’s interior reflects its owner’s many passions, including his love of steampunk: wood-and-metal spinning fans and two metal, toy biplanes hang from the ceiling, and gear-studded metal skulls and gear-shaped mirrors dot the store. Drawing the eye to a corner of the showroom is the hood of a wrecked racing car Hunter was lucky to walk away from on the track some years back after flipping the vehicle end-over-end. Hunter’s main goal in designing the shop was to “stray away from the … hospital feel of a stereotypical optical store, and to incorporate his passion for cars, shooting and cycling into his passion for opticianry,” says Kincaid-Smith.

This Colorado Optical Offers Truly Game-Changing Eyewear for Sportsmen and Women

Sports Optical’s owner Bret Hunter has won three SCCA rallycross national
championships as a driver.

Equally distinctive are the colorful murals that enliven the business’ exterior walls. Sports Optical has been working for four years with mural artist Lindsey Kuhn, who “has been doing this form of art since 1985 — 36 years. He has a wonderful eye for bright colors, and defined lines,” says Kincaid-Smith.

The steampunk vibe extends to the practice’s lively and engaged social media; their YouTube channel is particularly impressive, featuring regular videos showing new arrivals and new uses for their lenses, informational posts offering tips on how different glasses are likely to suit different faces — and even YouTubers shooting at their safety glasses to show how durable they are.

The practice is especially proud of its 4.9 average Google Rating from over 130 different reviews and counting. “Our customer service is directed at finding the best option for the customer, rather than over-pushing the sale,” she says. “We highly value the quality and effectiveness of our work.”

This Colorado Optical Offers Truly Game-Changing Eyewear for Sportsmen and Women

Five Cool Things About Sports Optical

1. DUTY CALLS. Sports Optical has become a go-to provider of safety glasses for the CIA, FBI, National Guard and CSI, among other military, law enforcement and official agencies.

2. FRONT LINE. At the beginning of the first COVID-19 outbreak, Sports Optical partnered with the Shamir lens brand on PPE glasses for first responders.

3. PRIVATE LABEL. Sports Optical’s sister company TacticalRx — started by Bret Hunter — produces its own line of sport and shooting/safety frames.

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4. NEED FOR SPEED. Owner Bret Hunter races sports cars. He has also raced snow bikes in the X-Games and won three SCCA national championships in rallycross. He even fixes vehicles — including his staff’s — “out of pure kindness.”

5. FAMILY AFFAIR. Sports Optical is family-owned and operated. The rest of the staff are friends of the owner and used to bicycle race with his two sons when they were all children together.

PHOTO GALLERY (18 IMAGES)
JUDGES’ COMMENTS
  • UNIQUE x 10! Self-driven, high-achieving adventurous individuals with an eye on perfection in optics. Love it! — Mark Hinton, eYeFacilitate, Indianapolis, IN
  • The explanations of lens technology and their reviews related to buyers of wrap eyewear are very compelling. — Jan Ennis, Ennco Display Group, Redmond, WA 
  • Sports Optical in Denver, CO is dripping personality. Bret Hunter has created a space that is not clinical but where eccentric tastes can feel at home. This shop specializes in sports eyewear with a lot to offer for younger athletes. I hope when you go by the shop you can see the HotDog Man! — Walter Roth, A&A Optical, Louisville, KY

 

Fine Story

The Sports Optical team are a handy crew: Alex Hunter — middle child of Bret — plays disc golf and wears quirky animal-themed shirts with his Cazals. Andrew Barker, website specialist, is a former pro cyclist (and Tour de l’Abitibi winner); Davis Barker is a D&D aficionado, plays bass in a metal band and is learning the practice’s secret finishing techniques. Emily Kincaid-Smith has 35 tattoos, 15 piercings and a fondness for old cemeteries; and Bret’s oldest child Ian Hunter is the lab manager, blows glass and excels at video games.

After years covering some of the farther flung corners of the world of business journalism, Heath has more recently focused on covering the efforts of independent eyecare professionals to negotiate a fast-changing industry landscape. Contact him at [email protected]

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