Eyeglasses are now considered fashion accessories as much as they are for vision correction. That is the philosophy and business model for owner Rachel Melendrez at Occoquan Optical. Located in the top floor of the Riverwalk Shops along Mill Street in historic Occoquan, the shop has a lovely view of the water and the natural light showcases the bespoke collections that Melendrez carries in her shop.
"Our wide array of colors and patterns can accommodate the style preferences of people looking to make their glasses part of their wardrobe," says Melendrez.
After years of working in private practice and large chain stores in California, Melendrez left the corporate environment, moved to Virginia, and opened her own business. She signed the lease and started converting the space in 2017, when she was eight months pregnant with her daughter and had a young son at home.
“It was a crazy time!” Melendrez remembers. “And the first six months were tough. Business was slow to catch on. But what finally started to turn things around was the Occoquan Days festival. We gave out our cards and word started getting out.”
As the only optician-owned optical boutique in Prince William County, Melendrez grinds the lenses on the premises, so lenses can be fit to existing frames as well.
“By cutting the lenses on site, I can ensure better quality control," says Melendrez. "I do a final inspection on every pair for any flaws or errors before notifying our patients. This also makes for quicker turnaround time, which is generally one and a half to two weeks for patients to get frames fitted with their prescriptions.”
Occoquan Optical likes to order their frames from smaller, independent brands and the laboratories they use are family owned and operated. The shop carries specialty lines of eyewear that few others do, including Kirk & Kirk and La Brique et LaViolette Toulesse. The latter’s frames are inspired by the people, characters, and colors of Toulouse, France, and each pair is custom made.
“Our business is very much an in-person, hands-on kind of business,” says Melendrez. “If people are just looking for price, then they will likely purchase their glasses online. But if they are looking for value and style, they will want to come here.”
Her shop prides themselves on helping their customers find the right frames that complement their features and natural coloring while taking their prescription and eyewear needs into consideration. Melendrez goes to trade shows to keep up with the latest trends in eyewear, traveling to San Francisco, New York, and Paris this year.
Although Melendrez’s customers come in to get a single pair of frames, the majority of customers take advantage of the 30 percent discount on a second pair of frames. The shop has a large clientele who return to continue building their eyeglass wardrobes.
Now she is planning how best to expand her business. She is considering opening a second location and perhaps partnering with an ophthalmologist. Virginia law requires a separate entrance for an optician from an ophthalmologist, so finding the right location and being able to provide adequate staffing with qualified opticians are some of the challenges she is working to overcome.
“I was an entrepreneur even as a kid," says Melendrez. "I went door to door selling whatever I could think of, so I think I was always meant to have my own business. I’m proud to be a woman and minority-owned business.”