One’s an ultra-urbane purveyor of high-fashion eyewear displayed in a store so spacious that a visitor cannot help but marvel at the empty acreage between the walls. It goes by the delicate name of Chic Optique. The proprietor has a plummy British accent.

The other is packed to the gunwales with the gruntwear of war and outdoor labor. Its name all but cries out for heavy stenciling: Red Bank Surplus. The guy behind the counter speaks undiluted Brooklynese.

Together, they’re a kind of beauty-and-the-beast of retail, emblematic of two ends of the downtown spectrum: a store that well-heeled shoppers flock to, and another at a price point that many locals think we need more of.

Each is also kind of new to town, which made us wonder what paths led them to storefronts just around a corner from one another. So redbankgreen popped in them recently to get their stories.

Follow the jump to read about Chic Optique; our story on Red Bank Surplus is below.


I’m from London, and I’ve been in America for about 15 years. For the past fourteen-and-a-half years we’ve had a business in New York called Ardee Eyewear, which is in the process of relocating from 57th Street. I’ve also had a business in Princeton, but I don’t have that anymore.

I’m an optician, but my background is in business, and I worked in the fashion industry previously. My first job was in fashion promotion. I got into this business initially when my father suggested setting up a chain of optical businesses in West Africa—he’d seen the success of LensCrafters and thought they could use something like that in Ghana and the Ivory Coast. Wanting to please him, I decided to become an optician. But I wasn’t really into it until I realized that this is actually an extension of the fashion industry.

How did I come to Red Bank? Well, I live in New Jersey, and a couple of years ago, my jeweler, one of the managers at Hamilton Jewelers in Princeton, and also the owner, recommended we look at Red Bank. So I did, and fell in love with it. Indeed, we we were quite impressed. I like the street — it’s a very quaint town, with a very business-like, busy downtown. It sort of reminded me of Soho, where you’ve got a lot of outdoor restaurants and a lot of foot traffic. I didn’t want to be in a mall-type environment, having been in New York City for so long.

I take it that yours is a premium-priced product.
Oh, yes, absolutely. Our frames range from about $200 to above $1,000.

And Red Bank is a good place for that?
And the surrounding towns, absolutely. Having done our demographics — there are partners in the store — we decided to come to Red Bank.

We opened about four months ago, and it’s doing very well. I’ve been floating between here and some other businesses, but so far, so good. Once people come in, the response is really positive.

You’ve generated a lot of talk in town because you’ve got this big space for the tiny little products you’re selling. Everyone’s wondering: all that real estate devoted to something that could be sold in a much smaller shop.
Well, possibly, but there are other products that we’re developing that will come in. We have a line of jewelry already, and we’ll be going into accessories as well.

So all this floor space isn’t just for the ambience?
Oh, no. But that has a lot to do with it, because even if more furniture came in, it would not be a cluttered effect. It’s a loft-type environment to welcome people. We want people to move around freely, and take the time and touch the glasses and experience what we do. And it’s very one-on-one what we do.

You have competition, obviously, in a place like EyeDesign. What were your thoughts about coming into a town that already has eyewear at the premium level?
They’ve been here for years and they’ve established themselves, but we carry different merchandise. We try not to overlap too much. Granted, in the past we’ve carried similar lines, but we’ve tried to take it in a different direction, so what we carry is very high-fashion, and maybe perhaps a little more fashion-forward. And service sets you apart from everybody, so we mustn’t forget that.

What we do is an extension of the fashion industry, but we’re helping people with their eyesight, too.

In terms of rents, what did you find when you came into town shopping for space?
Certainly, it’s very competitive. I think if you had to compare the rents here to other towns in New Jersey, it is higher. But I think the quality of merchandise that people here sell speaks for itself. You just have to basically try to generate that kind of income. It’s doable, if you know what you’re doing.

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