When Kurt Roeloffs earned his license to practice as an optician from the Carl Zeiss Institute in Germany in 1926, could he have known that, almost a century later, a business bearing his name would be going strong on Long Island’s South Fork?
In any event, it is, and Roeloffs East Hampton Optical remains a family affair. His son, also named Kurt, ran the business until his retirement in 2009. Today, Mark Roeloffs, the elder Kurt’s grandson who joined the family business over 20 years ago, oversees the practice that has stood at 9 Barns Lane in East Hampton Village since its 1989 opening.
“Opticians are more like optometrists in Europe: they do eye exams to test for eyeglasses, etc.,” Mr. Roeloffs says of his grandfather. “He became a master optician in Germany — I have his diploma on the wall and a photograph of him.”
Kurt Roeloffs immigrated to America and soon established an optical store in Patchogue, which operated until around 15 years ago, Mark Roeloffs said. The younger Kurt, an optometrist, took over that practice, and Mark became an optician around 25 years ago. “At that time,” he said, “he had started this location and was running both of them. This one was in its infancy, open for a year and a half. It was summer, and the business got real busy, coincidentally, just when I got here.”
Mark Roeloffs, who graduated first in his class from the Interboro Institute in New York City with a degree in ophthalmic dispensing, brought a “Manhattan” sensibility to the store’s eyewear selection, having worked in the city for five years. The nearly 1,000 frames from which to choose are representative of the styles chic New Yorkers summering in the Hamptons seek. Recent trends, Mr. Roeloffs said, are “thicker, bolder-looking frames. A throwback to the 1950s-type look and feel has become very popular — anything retro in style is very popular.” Larger frames, he added, are also back. “The Jackie O. look is really coming back in style.”
Fabrication is done on the premises, and “I just purchased the very latest and greatest of lens fabricating equipment,” Mr. Roeloffs said. Also due this year is equipment that allows same-day service, including of Varilux and Zeiss progressive lenses, he said. “If somebody loses them in the ocean, instead of ordering it that day and getting it a couple days later, I will be able to give it to them. That will be great.”
Above all is the attention to detail and service, Mr. Roeloffs said. “I’ve been at the upper end of this field since the beginning. I grew up with it, it’s in my blood,” he said. “Everybody in this field can produce eyewear that people can wear, but it’s the little details that set me aside. I’ve always taken everything to the highest level I could, both in my schooling and then in learning how to handle and manipulate frames, create lenses, and design the lenses for customers based on what their prescription is. Knowing how things are going to come out before they’re done helps custom-design things.”