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Northampton’s Optical Studio looks to future with significant expansion

  • Mary Finn and Dr. Mari Beth Erb talk about their business at Optical Studio in Northampton. —GAZETTE STAFF/CAROL LOLLIS

  • Optical Studio in Northampton. GAZETTE STAFF/CAROL LOLLIS

  • Dr. Mari Beth Erb, looks at images on an optical Coherence Tomography machine, which is now in a room of its own after the renovation at Optical Studio in Northampton. —GAZETTE STAFF/CAROL LOLLIS

  • Mary Finn and Dr. Mari Beth Erb talk about their business at Optical Studio in Northampton. GAZETTE STAFF/CAROL LOLLIS

  • Dr. Mari Beth Erb, looks at images on an optical Coherence Tomography machine, which is now in a room of its own after the renovation at Optical Studio in Northampton. —GAZETTE STAFF/CAROL LOLLIS

  • Dr. Laurel Y. Chute, who works at Optical Studio in Northampton, does an eye exam on Kathy Moonan last week at the studio’s Pleasant Street location. Optical Studio recently expanded its physical space at 274 Pleasant St. and is looking to add a doctor to its staff. GAZETTE STAFF/CAROL LOLLIS

  • Danielle Murphy, an Licensed Optician at Optical Studio in Northampton fits glasses on Louise Nicholas, a patient for 25 years. —GAZETTE STAFF/CAROL LOLLIS

  • Danielle Murphy, an Licensed Optician at Optical Studio in Northampton fixes glasses for Louise Nicholas, a patient for 25 years. —GAZETTE STAFF/CAROL LOLLIS

  • Danielle Murphy, a licensed optician at Optical Studio in Northampton, fits glasses on Louise Nicholas, a patient for nearly 25 years. The practice expanded this year and is looking to add a doctor to its growing business. GAZETTE STAFF/CAROL LOLLIS

  • Danielle Murphy, an Licensed Optician at Optical Studio in Northampton fixes glasses for Louise Nicholas, a patient for 25 years. —GAZETTE STAFF/CAROL LOLLIS



Staff Writer
Monday, November 06, 2017

NORTHAMPTON — In the ever-changing landscape of business and medicine, a few core values have kept Optical Studio, a small private optometry practice on Pleasant Street, afloat for the last 24 years.

Quality care, community-minded decision-making, and a culture of mentorship within the small practice are some of the keys to its long-running success, its owners say.

“There is a tide in medicine going towards more of a large corporate model, and we just haven’t been swept up in the tide of that,” said Mary Finn, manager, co-founder and a licensed optician with Optical Studio.

With the opening of a new 1,600-square-foot addition in April, Optical Studio, at 274 Pleasant St., is increasing the scope and quality of care it can provide to patients. Last month the business hosted an open house to show off the new facility complete with two new exam rooms, a fresh modern design, and local artists’ work on the walls. 

The practice is currently looking to hire another optometrist to join the team of  three — Drs. Maribeth Erb, Laurel Chute and Michael Purdy, who together have over 45 years of experience in optical care. 

“We see a lot lower volume per doctor than most practices, and we do that so we can establish, hopefully, significant communication, and significant relationships with the patients in this community,” said Erb, owner and co-founder of Optical Studio.

Finn and Erb met while studying at the University of Rochester, graduated in 1983, and have been in the eye care business ever since. They opened Optical Studio in 1993 with Erb as the owner in a one-room office on Northampton’s Sullivan Square. In 2001 they moved to the Pleasant Street location, which was not a desirable part of town at the time.

“When you’re investing your money and your own energy into a place you want to be mindful, because success isn’t guaranteed, it’s earned,” Finn said. “Our style has always been to grow incrementally.”

Optical Studio now boasts six exam rooms, a full-time staff of 13, new eye care instruments, new floors, fresh painted walls, and a redesigned interior with energy-efficient lighting. Finn estimates the expansion will allow them to see 50 percent more patients with shorter wait times.

Erb and Finn are glad to contribute to the continual development of Pleasant Street, and credit other local businesses like Sylvester’s Restaurant, Northampton Bicycle, and Yes Computers for the progress made over the last two decades.

Thomas Douglas Architects, a neighbor to the office, was the principal designer of the addition with the help of the company’s interior designer Shoshanna Wineburg. Berkshire Design Group sculpted the building’s exterior and Keiter Builders of Florence built the addition under the guidance of project manager Gabe Lapollo.

Erb said it’s heartwarming to see many small businesses owned by women, but it wasn’t that way when Optical Studio opened.

Erb remembers attending national meetings and trade shows with other optometry practice owners and being the only woman among them. Now as their practice expands, Erb and Finn want to serve as role models for other women entrepreneurs looking to start their own businesses.

“We didn’t have women role models ahead of us who had studied science and math, then took out a loan and opened a business,” Finn said. “It didn’t exist when I was in engineering school.”

In a niche industry like optometry, much of the administrative training is done on the job, making it a good opportunity for anyone interested in pursuing the practice professionally. Finn and Erb serve as  mentors for new hires, many of whom are women, first-generation college students, or first-generation Americans like themselves.

“I think we’re great mentors and great educators because it was something for us that was lacking in our early careers,” Finn said.

Unlike some optometry centers, Optical Studio cuts lenses on-site with a digital lens edger. Staff are trained to work the machine, something Finn says gives the office more control over quality.

“To be responsible in medicine you do have to stay cutting edge,” Erb said.

To stay relevant, Optical Studio learned to adapt with the changing times and changing needs of their patients. More people are wearing contacts nowadays, Finn said, so they designed a separate section of the office dedicated to teaching patients how to take them in and out. The center also offers speciality services for patients with low vision, along with a new assortment of optical instruments that will improve quality and efficiency of care. 

“The need and the demand for our services grows and grows every year,” said Finn.

Finn says that business has improved since the addition. Other practices have expressed interest in buying them in the past, but they have no interest in selling the practice. 

“We’re here to stay,” Finn said.

Sarah Robertson can be reached at srobertson@gazettenet.com