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This NYC optical has become a Lower East Side landmark, dispensing customized eyewear and styling—and a little therapy on the side.

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Anthony Aiden Opticians, New York, NY

OWNER: Anthony Gaggi; URL: anthonyaidenopticians.com; FACEBOOK: facebook.com/AnthonyAidenOpticians; INSTAGRAM: instagram.com/anthonyaidenopticians; TIKTOK: tiktok.com/@alexanderdaas; FOUNDED: 1989; Opened featured location: 2021; AREA: 950 sq. ft.; Buildout cost: $600,000; ARCHITECT AND DESIGN FIRMS: Gary Marenga; TOP BRANDS: Jacques Marie Mage, Barton Perreira, Kuboraum, ic! Berlin, Mykita, Blake Kuwahara; EMPLOYEES: 4 full-time, 1 part-time


From left, Anthony Gaggi and staff members Jenna Roberts, Sarah Sweeney and Brandon Boudwin

From left, Anthony Gaggi and staff members Jenna Roberts, Sarah Sweeney and Brandon Boudwin

IT’S FASHIONABLE THESE days — even something of a cliché — for small retailers looking for a marketing edge to describe themselves as a “destination boutique.” But it seems to us that’s a label you need to earn by building a clientele who truly seek you out and keep coming back because they know they’re in for a cool surprise when they do, and because they love the feel of your store and the vibe of your neighborhood. The real thing? You know it when you see it, and we found it at Anthony Aiden Opticians, Anthony Gaggi’s iconoclastic optical in NYC’s East Village.

Gaggi recalls that when he opened in the 1980s the East Village was (as it remains, if in a slightly less gritty way) bohemian and cool—two words he did not associate with optical retail in that era. “I felt like I could do something different in such a rigid field as eyewear. Optical was so clinical at the time and I saw a huge potential for fashion influence in eyewear with the birth of Oliver Peoples and Alain Mikli.” Since then, his client base has grown “from the hippie Lower East Side to the center of fashion, entertainment and music.”

Throughout the years Anthony Aiden Opticians has maintained a reputation as a neighborhood hangout where friendly, knowledgeable staff, in Gaggi’s words, “console the inconsolable and offer eyewear advice to those in need.”

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The optical’s interior maximizes the lack of square footage that typifies NYC real estate and achieves a “post-apocalyptic” vibe, as Gaggi puts it, with faux wall cracks, and exposed brick and stone emerging from behind seemingly blasted plaster work. It was inspired by the neighborhood as it existed back in the day.

“In the ’80s the East Village was the most affordable place to live but you would have holes in your ceilings and cracks in your walls. I paid tribute to this with the design and layout but in an intentional way.” The lighting is soft and cleverly placed to give a warm vibe while highlighting the beautiful acetate and precious metals used in the high-end eyewear that is Anthony Aiden’s specialty.

The store is also known for its elaborate window displays, which Gaggi uses not just to show off new frames, but as a forum to poke fun at everything from politics to religion to current events.

The optical maximizes the limited space and achieves a ‘post-apocalyptic’ vibe.

The optical maximizes the limited space and achieves a ‘post-apocalyptic’ vibe.

It’s just one of the ways Gaggi keeps his messaging memorable. “I don’t do the typical ‘have your eyes checked annually.’ That’s so boring and predictable. I flirt with my clients through postings and window displays. I connect both digitally and through brick and mortar.”

Gaggi handles Anthony Aiden’s social media presence personally. “This is another one of my enjoyments. I tried to hire social media companies but there was a huge disconnect with my personality and their posts. It just wasn’t me. It was so typical, so I took the reins back and started posting my creations. I show some behind the scenes, some personal projects and also sometimes allow [customers] to see some personal aspects of my life outside the office. It gives my clients another version of myself to see what makes me who I am.”

Where Anthony Aiden Opticians truly shines is its approach to personalizing eyewear, with Gaggi handling each pair himself. “All custom work from tinting to repairs and not to mention edging is done by me. Lens tints that have never been done before, application combinations such as flash mirror coatings over tinted transition lenses that turn into crazy sunglasses when fully activated…” He describes the in-house lab as a “sanctuary with an amazing Bose sound system and I just get lost in the process.” His go-to lens brand is Essilor. “They have the most solid product of any.” Online booking keeps his roster of “talented optometrists that work for my practice” busy.

Staff are encouraged to be themselves and express their personal opinions on their clients’ choices. “I have seen clients being pushed away from their original ideas and taken outside their comfort zone. Sometimes even leaving without a purchase only to come back days later to revisit—and most times purchase my staff’s recommendation.”

This speaks to the true “destination” that Anthony Aiden Opticians has become. “We help the clients choose something that expresses who they are.”

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Five Cool Things About Anthony Aiden Opticians

1. WON’T YOU BE MY NEIGHBOR. Across the street in plain sight is an apartment with disco balls and flashing lights. The occupant, Gaggi discovered, “is a famous pimp … who put Eliot Spitzer in jail. Crazy kid.”

2. SIDEWALK SCENES. Gaggi refers to the optical’s 10-foot window as his “big screen TV.” “The East Village is like a crazy reality show that entertains us always.”

3. CHART ART. Gaggi has an eye chart that was painted for him in 1991 by a squatter. “We bartered it for eyewear. David Baca … lived as a squatter for the experience to inspire his street art … Very East Village.”

4. ECP THERAPY. Gaggi likens his shop to the “local tavern where people for whatever reason come in and use my couch as a forum to tell us their life’s problems.”

5. FAME GAME. Gaggi recently fit custom glasses for Joe Rogan (pictured below), one of a long list of celebrity clients that includes Lenny Kravitz, Alan Cumming, comedians Phil Hanley and Robert Kelly, and the late punk icon Joey Ramone.

PHOTO GALLERY (12 IMAGES)

JUDGES’ COMMENTS
  • David Duralde, Chief Creative Officer, OGI Eyewear, Minneapolis, MN: The personalized and unique customer experience is the hallmark of this independent office. The well-curated frame selection and the commitment to offering creative styles and lens designs make this a standout shop.
  • Jenn Denham, Director of Growth Marketing, Optify, Salt Lake City, UT: Anthony Aiden’s brand is as unique and stylish as the frames they match to each patient’s personality. The boutique experience provides an elevated stylized session. Anthony Aiden’s loyal clients [are] a testament to the style guidance and expertise of staff.
  • Jan Ennis, President/CEO, Ennco Display Group, Redmond, WA: This is the classic edgy locale eyewear boutique. The space is very individualistic and focused on individual attention to the patient versus merchandising.

This NYC Optical Is an East Village Landmark

Fine Story

Gaggi cofounded the East Village Independent Merchants Association (EVIMA) to support local merchants who are having trouble financially by connecting them with local resources to help them remain in the game. “We also connect the dots to help with community issues such as safety, sanitation etc. We have deep roots with community political leaders in NYC.” EVIMA was started after the 2015 gas explosion on 2nd Avenue, which killed two people and destroyed three buildings. “It was catastrophic and hurt many businesses in the surrounding area such as B&H Dairy and Jimmy’s No. 43. We started EVIMA to help raise money for these businesses and it grew to be a more important resource for connections with city agencies” among others.

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 heath@smartworkmedia.com.

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