By Becky Wiese
A restaurant. A bar. A souvenir shop (?!). These are a few of the guesses patients have made when first seeing the space occupied by 1107 Optique, the eyewear home of VisionPoint Eye Center. “It’s fun and interesting to hear what people imagine is happening in this beautiful space,” explains Julie Payne, the practice’s Chief Strategic Officer.
In a way, the misconceptions are a testament to the amazing design that exudes hospitality. While neither a restaurant nor a bar nor a souvenir shop (although, if you wanted to really stretch your definition: It’s a place to purchase a memento of your appointment with the eye doctor), 1107 Optique is the antithesis of the typical eyewear center.
“There’s nothing medical feeling about it,” says Jane Schurter Smolen, Eyewear Team Lead. “We want people to feel that this is a warm, inviting place where they can relax, explore options and select eyewear that suits them perfectly.”
A Unique Space
When VisionPoint Eye Center opened in 2019, it was the result of four independent, successful local eyecare practices merging to join forces as a new entity, not simply to cohabit in the same space. Additionally, all four practices had their own eyewear centers and opticians, which have blended to serve patients from each practice as well as new patients.
It is safe to say that none of them served patients in a space that resembled 1107 Optique’s modern vintage French Chic decor. The 2,000 square foot area boasts walnut herringbone wood flooring; large windows that let in natural light and provide an open, natural feel; floor-to-ceiling stonework; and beautiful Restoration Hardware chandeliers that hang from the 26-foot-high wooden ceiling. Frames (remember, this is an eyewear center) are displayed on the walls as well as in a variety of custom displays including a nine-foot-tall late 18th century French armoire.
Even the optical station tables have tops made from salvaged train boxcar floors. The fashion frame displays have some antiques procured from Gridley Antiques and a few donated antique glasses mixed in, all adding to the interest and eclectic mix that blends together seamlessly.
“We have frame reps that travel all over the country, to big cities and metropolitan areas,” says Payne. “They all tell us there is nothing else like 1107 Optique. It is truly an amazing space, intentionally designed to be beautiful, functional, and welcoming.”
A Qualified Staff
Of course, the purpose of the space is to help patients find the best glasses for their vision needs. For that, VisionPoint offers 15 full-time opticians, plus five support staff, two of whom are currently apprentice opticians.
Reaping the benefits gained having both optometrists (doctors of optometry) and ophthalmologists (doctors of medicine who specialize in the treatment of disorders and diseases of the eye), the opticians have experience in assisting patients with a wide variety of vision needs.
A common misconception about opticians is that they “just” help patients pick out frames and make sure they fit on the patient’s face. In fact, opticians are professionals who are trained to take the prescription from the doctor and help the patient determine the best lens and frames for their eyesight needs. “We are like pharmacists for eyewear,” explains Smolen. “But we get to add the fashion component as well.”
Although VisionPoint is a large practice, the overarching goal since the beginning has been to maintain the personalized care and feeling of a small office. This starts at the front door in the Welcome Center and continues through the Eyewear department. The opticians ask personalized questions regarding an individual’s lifestyle and how they use their vision in their work, play, and other activities. This personalized care is one factor that makes a great optician.
But the role of the optician involves much more than that. Opticians take measurements of a patient’s face, because their eyes, nose, and ears all affect the way their glasses will sit on their face. They also have to know details about the lens material, the different parts of the lenses (segment height, optical center, just to name a few), whether the prescription calls for lenses that are thicker or thinner at different parts of the lens itself, as that will affect what types of frames will work well for the patient.
“There are a lot of scientific parts and details we are trained to evaluate,” says Smolen. “It’s not just about fashion—finding the cutest frames—and whether or not they hurt your ears or slide down your nose.”
“All glasses are not created equally,” says Dr. Jason Dunn, an optometrist at VisionPoint. “The doctor recommends and prescribes, but then the optician helps determine what frame style would work well for the patient’s specific prescription, plus they factor in the shape of the patient’s face and then helps guide the patient in selecting frames that will best meet their personal style, wants, and needs.” Opticians also work within the patient’s budget to get the glasses that are not only functional and fashionable, but also affordable.
“It’s important to be able to personalize care for each patient, and we believe well-trained, certified opticians do that best,” says Smolen. Although certification for opticians is not required in the State of Illinois, most of the opticians at VisionPoint are certified. A newly hired optician will do on-the-job training with oversight by certified opticians while studying for the American Board of Opticianry certification exam. Once certified, opticians are also required to complete annual continuing education hours which allows them to stay current on the latest advances in the field.
The benefit of certification ensures that an optician meets a national set of standards as a qualified and competent optician who is able to handle the eyewear needs of their patients. Opticians are tested on analyzing and interpreting prescriptions, fitting and dispensing glasses and other eyewear devices, and the proper use of standard ophthalmic equipment used to determine the best frames and lenses for a patient.
An Abundance of Options
Of course, the focus, pardon the pun, at 1107 Optique is on the frames. According to Smolen, there are about 3,000 frames to choose from, another benefit of the merger of the four practices when VisionPoint opened.
“The combined practices not only involved doctors and staff, but also allowed for a wide range of options when it comes to eyewear,” adds Dr. Dunn. “The goal [when VisionPoint was created] was to create a different feel to the eyewear department. Instead of a medical setting, we wanted it to have more of a consumer feel, but with the professionalism of opticians.”
Although 1107 Optique has a very “boutique” feel and look, there is a wide range of costs for frames. Smolen is confident that every patient could find frames that will be functional and fashionable, yet still fit within their budget. She estimates that 75 percent of available frames, those that are displayed in cases on the walls, would fall within the typical range of costs found in most eyewear departments, while the boutique styles and brands make up the other 25 percent. These fashion-forward frames include designers such as STATE (made in Chicago), SALT (from California) and frames from Japan, Spain, and France, just to name a few. There are frames for every purpose, personality, and pocketbook.
Appointments to see an optician became a necessity at the start of the COVID pandemic to keep the number of people inside within guidelines, but Optique has continued making appointments because it allows for more timely and personal service. “We have ten eyewear stations, five of which are reserved for VisionPoint patients following their eye health exam on any given day. The other five are reserved for optician appointments for patients who would like to get additional eyewear from an earlier prescription either from our doctors or elsewhere, and for frame adjustments, repairs, or dispenses,” explains Smolen.
An additional service to patients includes curbside pickup, also a result of modifications made during the pandemic. “We now pre-adjust the frames as much as possible when a patient selects them, before they are sent off to get lenses,” Smolen says. “This enables patients to pick up their glasses without having to get out of their car. It’s just another means of hospitality we extend for patients who, for whatever reason, don’t want to or can’t come inside.”
Just a side note: Did you know? The frames that you pick out are the actual frames you’ll be getting back with your specially made lenses. These are not “floor models” that are put back on the wall for the next patient to try. You choose your frames, they get measured and adjusted, then sent off for the lenses. Those are the same frames you’ll be getting back in a few weeks.
Jane Smolen sees the role of the professional optician as multifaceted. “We educate patients about their options based on their personal vision needs, inspire them with a variety of frames that will serve their personal lifestyle well, and empower them to invest in their vision at a price they can afford.”
It’s all part of the VisionPoint core value of providing excellent and patient centered service.
VisionPoint Eye Center and 1107 Optique are located at 1107 Airport Road in Bloomington. For more information, call 309.662.7700 or search visionpointeye.com.