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Made in the Shade

This new boutique has quickly made a name for itself in New York’s lake district by offering top-tier eyewear and treating every client like a friend.

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Sights & Shades, Canandaigua, NY

OWNER: Alex Feldman; URL: sightsandshades.com; FACEBOOK: facebook.com/sightsandshades; INSTAGRAM: :instagram.com/sights_shades; FOUNDED: 2022; AREA: 500 sq. ft.; Buildout cost: $5,000; TOP BRANDS: Tom Davies, Maui Jim, OWP, Sea 2 See, Kaos, Shamir; EMPLOYEES: None


Jennifer Yerden

Jennifer Yerden

WHEN PEOPLE ASK veteran optician Jennifer Yerden, who started her career as an apprentice at LensCrafters before spending two decades at private practices, what motivated her to open her own business, her standard answer is: “I helped put a few doctors’ kids through college. It’s my turn to start saving for retirement.” She likes to add that it “was born from a kids’ movie idea” (specifically, the 2005 animated movie Robots): “See a need, fill a need.” That’s exactly what Sights & Shades, her elegant, stylishly compact optical shop on Main Street in the Historic District of Canandaigua in upstate New York’s Finger Lakes region, did when it opened in June 2022 after years of planning. “Canandaigua had many options for someone to have their visual needs filled. But no boutiques. A need!” The business may be just shy of two years old, but its effortless balance of boutique optical offerings, expert opticianry and warm, community-tailored service won over the judges of INVISION’s 2023-24 America’s Finest Optical Retailers contest.
The business caters not only to locals but also to the steady flow of day trippers and out of town guests drawn to nearby Lake Canandaigua. In town, every season brings with it its own festival or downtown event, and Yerden gets actively involved in each. “Even if we don’t have one sale, it is fantastic exposure. I have had amazing foot traffic for one or maybe two days. And then over the next month or so, I have people coming back with their prescriptions.”

Yerden’s business plan is simple and designed to make her clients feel special while creating a sense of urgency. “I offer unique lines, some exclusive. I don’t repeat colors in my ophthalmic frames. I don’t apologize for my pricing or not taking insurance. I explain why it’s priced the way it is, why I don’t take insurances, and help clients get reimbursed.” She also offers sustainable frame options, which resonates with local environmental values. “The locals want to preserve the lake and appreciate options that make them feel good,” she said. Most importantly, customers are buying her time. “I believe in treating everyone as my friend. I believe that clients want to trust someone, with all the information that is available. It’s hard to know what’s what. I provide it with 25 years of experience. Simplify options. Ask lifestyle questions. And research if I don’t know.”

This Veteran Optician Filled a Need for a Boutique Eyewear Experience in an Upstate New York Resort Town

In Canandaigua, every season brings with it its own festival or downtown event, and Yerden gets actively involved in each.

The optical’s cozy space is dominated by an actual bar, found online, which serves as dispensing desk and cash wrap. “My space is very limited. I wanted a focal point at the back of the shop; it’s where your eye is drawn and draws the client into the store. I find that clients will sit with me, relax and chat. It’s slowly getting beat up and looking loved.” The rest of the office is painted in calm, soothing Lake House colors.

Sights & Shades, which doesn’t offer exams or fit contacts, does well with Shamir’s Autograph and Intelligence and the Glacier A/R. Tom Davies and Kaos are the top ophthalmic frames, with Maui Jim and Sea2See faring best in suns, prescription and plano. She’s also found Kiwanis, the city’s Business in Downtown organization, and local chambers of commerce to be great resources. “The other members have been fantastic supporters and clients.”

Yerden has good relations with the local doctors and is happy to refer, provided they “play nice and send them back.” She adds, “I can’t meet all the visual needs. I feel we are better together. It keeps the locals local and hopefully off the internet.” Finishing lenses on her own edger allows her to control turnaround and the final product — and is an activity she just plain enjoys — and plans are afoot to add a tint tank and other equipment.

This Veteran Optician Filled a Need for a Boutique Eyewear Experience in an Upstate New York Resort Town

Sights & Shades offers unique lines, some exclusive, and doesn’t repeat colors in ophthalmic frames.

As a new business owner she has enjoyed the steep marketing learning curve, gathering intel from wherever she can, whether it’s her sales rep turning her on to Canva, her kids explaining Instagram Reels, or online classes to improve her social media, where she posts three or four times a week. “I love when I see a new follower.”

At some point Yerden plans to add staff but for now she’s enjoying being a solo act. Her youngest son Dylan is training as an apprentice optician at another business, and they hope to be working together as a family within a few years. Right now, she’s just appreciating having such a cool boss. “I let me wear NFL jerseys for the season kick off… I let me take time off to re-group… I let me wear jeans!”

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Five Cool Things About Sights & Shades

1. PET FRIENDLY. Sights & Shades loves a four-legged visitor. The bar is stocked with treats for them and dog goggles are sold to their parents.

2. TRIP DOWN MEMORY LANE. In the optical hangs a watercolor of Lake Canandaigua’s long-gone swim school that Yerden’s mother painted in the late ’60s. “It has become an IYKYK kind of a piece. Locals’ faces light up — mostly retirees — and they share stories of jumping or diving into the lake with friends.”

This Veteran Optician Filled a Need for a Boutique Eyewear Experience in an Upstate New York Resort Town

3. DIRECT LINE. Clients are texted from Yerden’s personal number. “I love that if they have a question or need to stop by, they send a quick text.”

4. NIBBLES. During her Sip & See trunk shows (she held her second in December) Yerden offers tea or prosecco and little munchies.

5. TALKING POINT. Yerden has a book in which the pages have been folded into the Sights & Shades logo. “It’s a great focus point and starts a few conversations.”

PHOTO GALLERY (17 IMAGES)

JUDGES’ COMMENTS
  • It’s admirable how the proprietor’s vision translates so clearly in terms of frame assortment offered and the design of the shop. The future for independence is bright. — David Duralde, Chief Creative Officer, OGI Eyewear, Minneapolis, MN
  • When I find myself in Canandaigua, I am stopping by for a chat on the “porch” with Jennifer. She filled a community need for an optical shop and didn’t stop there. Offering a place to pull up a chair at the “bar” and find a unique frame styled to their personality, she created a destination spot. — Jenn Denham, Head of Business Development, Review Wave, McKinney, TX
  • I love the community aspect of keeping it local and treating everyone like a friend! I also admire Jennifer for taking the leap and starting her own business. The store has a very cute logo, and the exterior is very inviting. — Paige Kraemer, ABOC, Sales Consultant – Minnesota, Cherry Optical Lab, Green Bay, WI

 

Fine Story

Sights & Shades’ entrance has an overhang that Yerden prefers to think of as her “porch.” In summer she sets up a bistro set there and will sometimes sit at it and do paperwork. “I’ll chat with people walking by and offer to clean their glasses. I think it’s better than hiding in the store.” She leaves cleaning cloths there with her card for people walking by and a sign inviting them in for a cleaning. “It’s a great ice breaker for people to realize what I can offer them, and if not them, someone they know. And it has worked. I hear people say, ‘I finally saw my doctor — I am ready for those glasses now.’ Planting seeds.”

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