Gone in a blink: Slope optical business closes after 27 years in nabe

Gone in a blink: Slope optical business closes after 27 years in nabe
Photo by Colin Mixson

These eyes are closed.

The owners of a Park Slope mom-and-pop optical shop shut the spot down last month after losing too many customers to online and chain retailers they claimed snagged their clients without providing the type of quality service the local operation provided during its nearly three-decade run.

“They don’t know what they’re doing, they don’t fit you the right way,” said Robert Zimmerman. “Here, we gave you service, and I charged a little more.”

Zimmerman and his brother Stuart opened their Visions of Park Slope boutique at 180 Lincoln Pl. in 1991, bringing his wife, an optometrist, on board to hand out its first prescriptions while she was pregnant with their first daughter, he said.

“It was a real mom-and-pop operation,” the co-founder said.

The eyeglass entrepreneurs prided themselves on their customer relations, which Zimmerman claimed left patrons with better-looking and better-fitting frames than that of their competitors, but their personal touch couldn’t compete with the growing number of online retailers that let clients shop for frames and contact lenses without leaving their living rooms — even when the local shop found ways to offer the same products at an equal price, he said.

“I would finagle a way to get it to them for the same price, and they would still get it from them, because they’re sitting at home, just clicking away,” Zimmerman said.

But spectacle stores aren’t the only local small businesses in trouble, according to Zimmerman, who said Park Slope’s once-bustling Seventh Avenue is now littered with darkened storefronts where entrepreneurs failed to make ends meet.

“When we moved into the neighborhood there wasn’t one open spot on Seventh Avenue to be had,” he said. “Now there’s one on every block.”

Indeed, Visions of Park Slope’s Sept. 20 closing came days before the owners of Tex-Mex restaurant Santa Fe Grill closed the eatery at 62 Seventh. Ave. on Sept. 28 following a 34-year run, and months after the proprietor of Seventh Avenue health-food emporium Back to the Land sold his last supplement earlier this year after nearly half a century in business.

And last year, the owner of Dizzy’s Diner closed its nearby Fifth Avenue outpost he opened in 2012, claiming the second location drew too many customers away from the eatery’s Ninth Street flagship.

Many patrons congratulated Zimmerman on his 27-year run, he said, but the plaudits have yet to soothe his lingering pain over calling it quits.

“Some people asked, ‘How’d you do it for 27 years?’ and others said, ‘If you’re in business for a year, you’re lucky,’ ” Zimmerman said. “But I feel like I failed.”

Former Visions of Park Slope clients can collect their records and prescriptions at Urban Optical [326 Seventh Ave. between Eighth and Ninth streets in Park Slope, (718) 832–3513, www.urbanoptical.com].

Reach reporter Colin Mixson at cmixson@cnglocal.com or by calling (718) 260-4505.