The slightly chipped paint, the faded blue façade, the irons bar and the vacant lots around it might make you wonder if you’ve somehow managed to follow your GPS to the wrong address, but fear not. If you’re looking for Smith’s Opticians, you'll find in the most unexpected of places, behind this run-down exterior under the shadow of 59 in Midtown. And what a find it is.
4313 Austin St.
“I don’t really pay a lot of attention to what other shops might be stocking,” says Philip Brown, the store’s owner. “I pick out things that grab me and the clientele here really like that.”
That clientele includes a lot of musicians and artists, as well as savvy shoppers who want something to grace their face. Brown and his father bought the store in 1981. Before that, it was operated by the Smith whose name still graces the business—the store’s been there since 1965.
Brown comes from a family of opticians, so most of his life was spent in the building, which is packed with eyeglass frames from around the world, including a whole room of what he calls vintage eyewear. Some might be new stock that harkens to vintage designs. Some might be excess stock of an eyewear business from 20 years ago that Brown picked up in a sale. There are also newer brands on the walls, too, mostly under-the-radar brands like Garrett Leight, Aframes, Krewe Optic and 141 Eyewear. All of the frames are hand-curated by Brown and it makes for a special shopping experience.
Ditto Smith’s Optician’s customer service. Brown and his team will fit you with pieces, then offer ideas and opinions on what works for your face, your coloring, your style. And that's before you head into the kaleidoscope-like photo booth to get an objective view of how you look in every pair.
“Some people might think it takes longer than they figured to find a pair of glasses,” Brown says. “But the time is worth it. When you find the right fit, the right shape, it’s just great.”
Smith's Opticians is one of Houstonia's 101 Great Little Shops for 2015. See the full list here.