I’ll Take Manhattan Everytime…

Early in 1983, my partner, Jim Fischbach, and I had just about given up hope for the success of, or even the continuation of,  our new enterprise, CARMA (Casino and Restaurant Marketing Associates). Our big client for whom we were contracted to reposition, redesign and market five casino hotels in Las Vegas (including The Silverbird, the Silver Nugget and the Holiday Inn, Downtown), formerly owned by Major Riddle, had run into a snag. The controlling Nevada Commission on Gaming had discovered that our client’s major Canadian investor had a personal history just chuck full of “known associates” and, therefore, barred our rich client from doing business in the State of Nevada.

Another dream down the drain.

But, another quickly took form. Two months later, I attended Vision Expo at the Javits Center in New York. I was well-known at the convention because I had been the creative inventor and initial marketer of EYELAB, the world’s first eyewear “superstore” which had revolutionized the industry’s retail thinking and, through its carbon-copy, Lenscrafters, generated billions of new dollars in eyewear sales. I had also been consultant to the frame and lens manufacturing associations and had introduced them to the phenomena of the Baby Boom, which had pretty much passed them by, as had all modern marketing concepts, and showed them that the coming age  would be The Eyewear Generation as those Baby Boomers approached middle age and presbyopia. To an industry suffering from stagnation and facing the growing threat of Lasik surgery, I was a “second coming”. .

At the convention, the president of the largest frame maker in America, Curt Rogers of Martin Copeland, asked me to dinner at the Bull and Bear in the Waldorf=Astoria explaining he needed my business advice. At dinner, he explained that his company was not moving forward. The Italians had greater skills in the crafting of frames, and, at lower salaries, and the Godzilla  on the horizon was the improving craftsmanship of the Chinese who, previously, had been considered only a threat to low-end western makers. He wondered if I had any marketing advice that might give Martin Copeland hope for the future. After exploring the subject with him, I said, “Curt, marketing is based upon reality. The reality is, that U.S. salaries are not going to go down, that Asian skills and use of materials are going to rise, that manufacturing is moving towards outsourcing in a massive business exodus of the American Way. The U.S. is going to survive through service and technical industries. And, the U.S. will still be the biggest consumer of goods, regardless of where they are made.  Importing, wholesaling and retailing are industries where growth is certain. In eyewear, the future is already being written by Lenscrafters and Eyelab, by the consumer-oriented eyewear superstore in a time when within a few years and for the following 19 years, the growth of presbyopia and eyeglasses to correct it will make possible a “baby boomers” boom in eyewear like that which catapulted jeans sales and record sales in the fifties and sixties.”

Curt had attended my lectures on The Eyewear Generation and shared the vision of the future of vision sales. But, the fact that even Jack Byrne did not have some marketing magic to increase his company’s sales obviously distressed him.

While we were talking, I was recalling that, although I had invented EYELAB and been paid a fee of $20,000 to come up with a “new way to retail eyewear” by Bob Hillman and Larry Kohan and then, for two years had produced all its marketing/advertising support that created the highest volume of store sales in eyewear history and then wrote the business plan that they used to sell the business to Quaker Oats for a cumulative $30 million, I was replaced the next day by the Quaker Oats agency. I remembered I had said, when Hillman informed me of my termination, “I’m not going to leave the business, Bob”. Now, I said, “Curt, maybe you should add retailing to your company’s plan. In other industries, like menswear, it’s quite common for companies to be both maker and seller.”

“We don’t know shit about retailing, Jack.”

I didn’t answer. I just looked at him and made sure he was looking at me. He looked. And looked. And, I said nothing. Then, a small light bulb lit up over his head and I knew I had him.

“But, Jack, you do.” I nodded. “You invented retailing as we know it today!” I nodded. “Could we work together?” I nodded again and said, “Let’s invent retailing as they’ll know it tomorrow.”

Curt’s smile illuminated  the Bull and Bear.

I said, “Curt, for all the success of the glasses-in-an-hour concept now led by Lenscrafters, it’s missing one basic ingredient in the marketing of wearing apparel. Fashion and Fad.”

“The very message of  “glasses-in-an-hour” says that shopping for glasses is a pain in the ass, that, the sooner you get it done, the better. Even men don’t feel that way about buying shoes or a hat and women, mostly, shop for fashion at a pace that says, “the longer it takes me, the better”. That’s where the new marketing is missing the mark. The Baby Boomers have led fashion since they forced their home-from-the-war dads to move to the suburbs to make more room for the babies. They showed their power in the record business in their teens and made the whole world follow them into jeans in their twenties and so on – they have always had it their way because marketers focus most attention upon growing markets and as their larger cohorts entered and aged, the marketers focused on them. Now, the first of the Baby Boomers, born in 1946, are turning 40 in three years. For 19 years, the 40 and over age group will grow almost exponentially. Glasses have always been a negative fashion. Dorothy Parker nailed it when she said, ‘Men seldom make passes at girls who wear glasses.’ Now, as those ego-centered Baby Boomers are facing the need for reading glasses – they are ripe for changing the fad against glasses to the fad for glasses. And, because they are, through the marketers, world leaders, the world will follow.”

Curt listened to every word, very intently, his jaw in his hands, his elbows on the table. “Jesus, Jack, you make more sense than anyone. We are entering the Eyewear Generation but we have to …”

“Turn the “need” for wearing  into the “greed” of wanting . The trigger is fashion. We need to glamorize eyes and that should be easier than feet. Women buy one pair of shoes to protect their feet. The next 100 pairs are to project their image. Presbyopic eyes need a pair of glasses. But,  if eyewear is bought for how one looks  more than for how one sees ,  one will move eyewear into the profitable world of discretionary spending.!”

Curt then asked how I thought we could go about this. I told him that fashion trends start in Fashion Centers. We were sitting in the Number 1 Center in today’s world, Manhattan. Yet, I pointed out, because of the media cost and the endless small-store competition,  no eyewear superstore had entered the Big City. Eyelab started it all just 15 miles away in Paramus, New Jersey, and in 1983  three years later there were some 50 stores in America but none nearer to New York than Paramus. The concept I had believed in for a couple of years was to start an industry flagship in midtown Manhattan where the media is seated,  waiting to be fed to inform the world,  and where the fashion Innovators live in herds ready to innovate and start new trends. But, the vision industry, up to that time, had no vision.

Curt said, “Can we do this? Can we start it on our own?”. “Yes, you can”. I answered. “How?”, he asked. “Quietly”, I answered, and explained that I knew he and his partners would be afraid of offending (or perhaps having their products boycotted by) the 2000 or so small optician and optometrist shops and chain stores around Manhattan. At least during the formative year or two, Martin Copeland would have to be a silent partner providing the funds and provide its guidance and approvals from behind the scenes.

We left the Bull and Bear, like a couple of Bulls in a bull market. We knew we were on to something that would produce millions and benefit, perhaps billions – all of those who spent their lives embarrassed and sorry that they wore glasses. Curt said he would consult with his partners and  get back to me. Meanwhile, I told him, I would get some numbers and timetables together for discussion.

Three days later, Curt called. He and his two key associates and their financial adviser had discussed this new direction for Martin Copeland. Although hesitant, they wanted to go forward and look at a plan with conservative business projections and investment requirements. He assured me that if they failed to go forward he would see I was paid properly for my time. We agreed that I would come to their offices in Providence, Rhode Island, two weeks hence.

My biggest problem was that I had never operated or been involved in the operations of an eyewear store. Created? Sure. Marketed? Indeed. Knew presbyopia from astigmatism? Not really.

I immediately knew I needed a partner, someone who was everything that I was not. Experienced. Technically trained. Recognized by the industry as such with knowledge of frames and crafting of lenses and with good understanding of the numbers required to  run a successful eyewear business. And, I knew ‘just the man’.

Hillman and Kohan, the founders of EYELAB, had started their own store some twenty years before called, appropriately enough, Hillman and Kohan Vision Center. In their first year, they found a dedicated and very enthused young optician by the name of Larry Darrow. Larry was fun to be with and excellent at his craft, fulfilling prescriptions for lenses. Larry grew with them as they expanded their business to a number of locations but when H&K merged with Pearl Vision and Hillman and Kohan became principals, Larry was left on his own. He started a small shop of his own, perhaps with their help, grew to 3 units. In 1976, Hillman & Kohan decided to leave Pearle and go back on their own. That is when, through an architect, they decided to contact Jack Byrne who “was a genius at creating store ideas” according to the architect who had worked with me for the Gap and Robert Hall.

At that time, I took the H&K partners to Barney’s to demonstrate “dominant retailing” where one mens store, through selection and service , was able to capture 10% of all menswear sales in the Greater Metropolitan Area where 2500 competitor stores resided. We created the concept of what I named, “See, America.” But, their lawyer put a stop to this by proving to them that they could not break their separation agreement with Pearle for two years so they could not open any retail store. Hillman and Kohan, put “See America” on a back-burner and decided to invest in a new optical lens laboratory, with my marketing help. I named it Optimum Optics and H&K called in their specialist, Larry Darrow, to run the day-to-day business for them. Two years later, when they were ready to begin See America (which we renamed EYELAB), H&K once more left Darrow behind running Optimum Optics for Omega Optics, the Texas-based company owned by Bill Benedict to whom they had sold out. Darrow was soon let go by Benedict’s  new management and forced back to operating the small optical shops in northern New Jersey that he still owned.

Larry was my man.

It took Larry about 5 seconds to say, “I’m in!”. He knew he would be able to keep the 3 optic shops he had and they could “run themselves .” He knew that Jack Byrne had created or named and marketed Eyelab and Optimum Optics, both big sell-off concepts, that Jack was known by frame makers and lens makers, alike, as consultant to the two national association and biggest of all, he had nothing to lose. We agreed that he would be president and I would be CEO and Chairman of the Board. He would run operations and I would run financing and marketing. Now, all we had to do was get Martin Copeland to put up the money.

In our first week of planning we concentrated on estimating cost of operations, from payroll through cost of goods and mark ups, for both normal and  sale periods, equipment cost and leasing, marketing and advertising. We also estimated construction cost,  based upon taking over a previously occupied retail premises and rental of those premises.

I projected the business in detail for the first year and summarized a five and ten-year plan including expansion to a  number of satellite store units.

On the last day before we gathered our presentation for our trip to Providence, the name came to me, Manhattan Eyeland. It was an obvious but perfect name for a store on Manhattan Island. I checked and the trade name was available. We boarded the New Haven RR the next morning. We were confident that he had a powerful name and a feasible business plan but we were not confident that we would get the minimum investment of $1.5 million (about $5 million in 2010) approved. We knew, although he was president, that Curt Rogers did not have voting control in the company. We knew we would have  to convince people we did not know. I knew from experience that was not always easy.

We arrived at the Martin Copeland building at 3pm. We were greeted by Curt and he told us it would be a small group of four including himself, and that, one man, the Chief of Production, had a long tenure in the company and had built substantial equity so he, George C.,  would represent the most important vote.

We met with the group, passed out copies of our projections and requirements while I talked about the significant things to understand about the future of the eyewear market. They were quite non-committal, especially George, and it seemed as though they were being nothing more than polite. I kept reminding myself of what I’d learned about the taciturn New Englander and did not let my enthusiasm wane. It took 90 minutes to go through what we had to go through. I had expected them to thank us, say they would get back to us, and bid goodbye. Instead,  they asked us to wait in an office down the hall while they discussed the proposal amongst themselves. They seemed to think $1.5 million was a lot of money. We went to the room and amused ourselves by trying to determine whether they cared for the idea or didn’t give a shit. Thirty minutes passed. Then, forty.

Then, Curt Rogers entered the small office and said, simply, “OK, we’re in business..”

I said, “What?”

He said, “It’s approved.” Out of the corner of my eye, I saw Larry getting ready to let out a war-whoop, so I quickly stood up and shook Curt’s hand, and said, “Good Luck, partner, let’s get started.” Curt said, “We won’t be involved much, but call us when you need us. I’ve got to run. The receptionist will get you a taxi to the station. Good Luck.” And, he left. Larry and I picked up our papers and headed for the Men’s Room. As soon as the door close, Larry couldn’t hold it any longer. He shouted, “Yippee yi-yo-ki-yay!” and put his finger on his head and pranced around like a cowboy at a barn dance.

Unfortunately, at that very moment, conservative George also came into the Men’s Room. There goes our cool cover, I thought, turning red. But, George handled it well. “I’m glad to see your enthusiasm, we’re all a little too conservative up here.” Larry reported later, that he had felt like an asshole but I told him that that was all right because he was one.

But, in truth, he had only expressed openly what I had felt inside. We had a deal. It came just as my dream of CARMA owning Las Vegas had collapsed. This dream was also big in puffery. The first EYELAB had done over $5 million in its first year – in Paramus, New Jersey. The store we planned would be far better, much bigger and in an area with 50 times as much population. Although we presented conservative figures to our partner prospects – I believed we were launching a business that would be worth hundreds of millions of dollars in just a few years.

Because of this confidence in the concept, I had not argued when the Martin Copeland group said that, instead of putting $1.5 million as an investment, they would arrange for their bank, Fleet National  to advance up to that amount to Manhattan Eyeland and they would guarantee the loan to assure the credit. They would, additionally, put in $50,000 cash as capital. I agreed, quite readily, with only a twinge of a faint memory about what I had learned about the danger of under-capitalized start-ups.

Martin Copeland would own 50% and I would own 50%. But, I shared my 50% 50-50 with Larry Darrow with only a twinge of a faint memory that it is not too good to have a secondary partner own as many shares as you.

I was totally preoccupied with the idea that we were going to change the world, literally. From the time I became a consultant to the industry, I was aware that the retailers ran their business as though they were semi-doctors and, in fact, a third of the owners were optometrists, not MDs but close, ODs. Most eyewear was offered as a cure for a handicap, itself a handicap but still a cure. Sure, the optometrist or optician would try to fit his  “patient” with a frame that suited the physical structure of the face but only a few high-end retailers were selling frames as an enhancement to ones looks whether one needed glasses or not.

Christian Cooper, with 20-20 vision, wore glasses for fashion from the age of 16.

Of course, people had become to accept sunglasses as fashion, but only a few astute fashion leaders used prescription glasses for fashion reasons. Yet, some, like my wife Christian, had been buying plano lens prescription frames for years, to attract attention to her face, to her eyes or simply to her. It worked very well for Christian and fashion-conscious people like herself.

But, the vision industry, despite my lectures and proposals, never put together a program to promote the fashion of eyewear. Instead, frame makers stood by whilst their contact lens brethren told people to “throw away your glasses”, and implied “men always make passes at girls who don’t wear glasses.” But, by 1983, the industry faced an even bigger threat looming in its future, Radial keratonomy developed in Russia by Dr. Fyodorov was now being explored through the  use of a laser. By 1987, the surgeons would begin what became the most aggressive promotion encouraging the vision impaired to get rid of their glasses forever, through surgery. Regardless of the inherent risk and the extreme life suffering for those whose experienced surgery gone wrong, these  services were promoted as an elixir of life. But, with each  surgery that went right,  some twenty or more pairs of glasses and lenses (one’s lifetime supply) were cut from the eyewear futures market.

I had a simple mission, to change the public’s mindset about glasses. I had an experience in mind-changing in the late sixties and early seventies when I was working with Barney’s mens store. We had to change a four-decade long image of a bargain store to that of a leading fashion store. We did this through physical change of the premises but we had to re-shape the mental image to get the higher end prospects to come to the out-of-the way store to see the change. This we did through advertising. But, we had an additional task. By the time in 1970 when we were opening the new store, the attempt of the menswear industry to bring designers from the women’s wear industry into menswear business, and stir buying for fashion not just for need, was floundering and beginning to smell. We had to change that trend and create a positive consumer attitude towards mens fashions. We did that. Through mind-shaping advertising on radio and in full pages of the New York Times, we rekindled the interest of New Yorkers in mens’ fashions and, through them, the interest of the world around them, including other retailers and the American public. The change radiated from one giant store with a purpose out to the world that needed such a leader.

This is why I was sure  that a single flagship store could influence the world around it,  in waves of new interest and perceptions, to the point where adults would seek glasses to fit their fashion need, for business, for socializing, for disco dancing, for making out and, instead of one pair,  worn in shame, and bought only as vision deteriorated, the Rx wearer would buy half a dozen frames every couple of years to fit these new “necessities” of a fashion-driven life.

Within a week, my dream began to take shape. We had our first $250 thousand advanced into our account at a Park Avenue bank affiliate of Providence-based Fleet National, our partners bank. Larry and I had our first monthly checks (based upon $100,000/year salaries, each). We had set up a unique office. At the time, I was renting the entire top floor of  The Picasso Apartments at 210 East 58th Street, which was composed of four “penthouse” apartments, two 2-bedrooms, one 1-bedroom and one large studio. Each had a kitchen, three had living rooms, and there were six bathrooms, so there were 20 room units in all (plus about 1000 square feet of terrace).  I used one of the 2-bedroom apartments for my one-man company, Creative Penthouse,  and I had joined the 1-bedroom apartment to our home’s 2-bedroom apartment to make room for our growing  family.

That left the studio.

I knew we would need office space for the plans group required to prepare for opening a store of the size planned. We needed space  Larry and two buyers, a personnel director, lens laoatory  director and an optomitrist to set up the eye-examination center. I decided that the Japanese management team system would be best for this temporary grouping and bought a large oval table. which could seat 16, and 16 chairs, as “the office” and had it installed into the studio apartment. The phone company installed the necessary lines and a master phone jack to handle 16 phones and within a couple of days it looked like we were opening a  bookmaker’s online betting parlor. Fortunately, my landlord, Mickey Palin, was a friend and understood the importance of my using my residence for such business and realized it was a temporary necessity. Of course, I planned on rewarding him and his family with gift eyewear fashions for his kindness.

While Larry began the process of the search for people, I conducted the search for premises. I knew we had to locate in a neighborhood known for fashion and quality. I also knew that 5th and Madison Avenue were out of the question for they were way out of budget. On those prestigious blocks in midtown New York City, street rentals ranged from $100 to $400 a square foot, even in 1983 (In 2010: $1000/sf to $2000/sf).  With a 20,000 square foot store in mind – rent would be from $2 million up to $8 million a year in such locations.

But, I found two locations which could reflect high quality without the burden of such high-price.

The first was the famed Hammacher Schlemmer store on East 57th Street between Lexington and Third Avenues which was the leading hyper-priced gift store in America and known around the world. Hammacher Schlemmer occupied the entire seven-story, 70 thousand square-foot  building but the word was that it was losing business at retail and now primarily depended upon mail-order sales from its world-famed (and world-distributed) catalog. The word also was that Hammacher Schlemmer might be interested in leasing part of its premises. The floors being approximately 6,000 square feet each, we would need three floors, and two of them would have to be the one on the street level  and the one immediately above. Our laboratory and examination center could be located on any floor above those. The advantages of this location were that Hammacher Schlemmer was a world-renowned name, its location had been fixed for a half century and East 57th Street was accepted as one of New York’s premier shopping streets. The disadvantages were, the building was in rather poor repair, we would have to share our store elevator with people unrelated to our business, and, should Hammacher Schlemmer see fit to forego retailing completely, we would be faced with a new landlord who, perhaps, might have building objectives in conflict with our own usage.

The second location excited me even more. There was a highly prestigious new apartment building, Le Triomphe, nearing completion,  that stretched from East 58th Street to East 59th Street along Second Avenue. It rose 30 stories into the Midtown East Manhattan skyline and two of its penthouses had private swimming pools and one had been already leased by Sylvester Stallone. The bottom two floors were set aside for retailing and no part of them had yet been signed for.  The East 59th Street/Second Avenue corner faced the entrance to (and exit from) the Queensboro Bridge and was reported by the city to have the third largest flow of daily traffic in all of Manhattan. The corner also faced the entrance to the Roosevelt Island Tramway, which was the only way for Roosevelt Islanders to commute to Manhattan by public transportation. And, although Second was not a “shopping avenue” and East 59th street stores were not ones of quality, it was but one block away from the Third Avenue entrance to Bloomingdale’s, at the time, New York’s most influential store for “movers and shakers”, even though far three blocks  from Fifth Avenue. One more plus for the location was that Bloomingdale’s was moving its entire buying operation to the Le Triomphe building which  would be located on the floor below the Street level. If our store were there, every vendor to Bloomingdale’s would have to go through our entrance to visit the important buyers of Bloomingdale’s. I was sure this could create a wave of awareness that would establish our new concept “across the land”.

Private swimming pool in one of the penthouses at Le Triomphe.

One negative to this location was it would be more necessary for us to bring our customers to us, since we were not on a natural shopping street full of passers-by seeking quality goods. The second negative was that the owner, Robert Olnick, wanted a two-  million dollar security deposit (to protect him if we damaged the property or failed to pay the rent).

After a week of negotiation, investigation and evaluation, I had reluctantly decided that I would have to forego Le Triomphe as the $2 million was out of the question. I made an appointment for the following Saturday afternoon to meet with the Hammacher Schlemmer people to tie up the agreements for a lease.

During the week, I sought to meet with the Olnick Organization and they said the boss, Robert Olnick, was only available Saturday morning but that he definitely wanted to meet with me.

That Saturday morning, Bob and I met in his office. By now, I had some store concepts drawn, including the name, Manhattan Eyeland, and a fifty-page, ten-year business plan with detailed breakdown of sales and operating expenses. I had maintained in the expense plan a 10% figure for rent. As sales went up, so did the rent and some other fixed operating expenses. The rent the first year was to be $750,000 based upon what I considered a conservative estimate of $7.5 million sales. The rent in the tenth year would be $1.5 million based upon a sales growth projection of approximately 7.5% per year, thus doubling to $15 million by year 10. The ten years of rent would total close to $10 million.

I brought these figures to the meeting with the Key Numbers summaries. I knew that Bob was still working with his bank on long-term business loans and I knew a lease was an instrument in favor of the owner-borrower in these circumstances. And, I knew what I had to do to make the demand for a $2 million security advance go away.

I opened the meeting telling Bob that my dream was to have Manhattan Eyeland in Le Triomphe with its beauty and its visibility to the dense 59th and 2nd  car traffic, its proximity to the Tram and the subtle value of  having Bloomingdale’s buying offices on the floor below. I told him we wanted the entire 2nd floor and 1/3rd of the first which would be a wedge-shaped space encompassing the 59th and 2nd corner of the building. I told him we would be advertising in a most prestigious manner as I had done for Barney’s a decade before and thus, enhance his building’s high-end image, rather than detract from it,  as more promotional retail tenants would.  I showed him the figures and their logical progression. Then, I reminded him that the ten-year lease would be worth over $10 million and asked him if such an instrument would  not benefit him with his bank. He admitted if the bank accepted its validity, then, for him,  it would mean money in the bank, lots of money. Then, I told him I was up against a wall, I had to lock in on a location and said, “Damn it, Bob, this very afternoon the principals of Hammacher Schlemmer are meeting with me and are ready to sign a similar value lease with them”. He said, “The Hammacher Schlemmer building is no Le Triomphe.” I said, “You know that and I know that but, my financial partners like that they bear a world-famous shopping name and the kicker is that they are foregoing any advanced security deposit.” I held up the plan and added, “Bob, we are going to have the world’s largest inventory of the best quality frames, lenses, sunglasses, sports goggles,  binoculars, the works. We will have the most advanced eye-examination equipment anywhere in the world. We will have a store so beautiful, people will come to visit just to see it. It will be the newest prestige product attraction for the entire city. But, shit Bob, that type of show ties up a lot of start-up funds and we just can’t tie up $2 million sitting in a bank and not working. We just can’t!”

I threw the plan down on his desk and plunked down in my chair in a disheartened slump.  Bob, apparently realized that these were my final words on his security. But, he was a well-respected real-estate negotiator and needed show some resistance.  He came back with an offer that would save his face  and please his bank. “Jack, your actual sales results come in well over your projections, especially in my building…” I nodded and raised my flat hand in an “I know, I know” sign.

“Will you pay me 10% of all sales that exceed your projections each year?”

That was a no-brainer for me. It’s called a “percentage lease” and is typical of mall operators leases with their mall tenants. But, I tried to look as though I was struggling with this concept which could cost my company a lot of lost profit in the future. I mumbled to my self something like “my partners will kill me for this” and then I sat up straight, braced my shoulders, took a deep breath and exhaled as I said as though he had won, “OK,  Bob, no security, but we will pay you 10% on all sales overages for the full  10 years of the lease”.

Bob smiled somewhat triumphantly. I stood up,  trying to look a bit weary and strained.

We shook hands. Bob, to relax the tension,  poured a dram of cognac for each of us. The toast sealed the deal. He said, “I’ll have the lease by Monday morning.” I answered, “You’ll have it back by Tuesday.” Then, I left before I caught myself shouting “Yippee yi-yo-ki yay” like my “ass-hole” partner, Larry Darrow, had shouted in that Men’s Room in Providence.

I called and cancelled  the meeting with Hammacher Schlemmer. They were pissed. No, not pissed.  They were VERY PISSED!!!  It turned out that the president had flown in from Chicago that morning  just to meet with me.  You can’t please everybody.

My new store, Manhattan Eyeland, was conveniently located for its chairman. I could see its East 58th Street end from my penthouse terrace one-half block away. Many nights before my final meeting with Bob, I had sat during the evening picturing what I might do with the premises to make them a world-famous landmark. Now, I would have that chance.

The following Monday, Bob had the lease delivered to my apartment at 8:00 am. I took this to mean he was happy with the deal. I had phoned over the weekend to my “money partners” in Rhode Island and explained how we had gotten the desired property without one penny of the $2 million security and in return would pay percentage rent. They barely knew what a percentage rent was and they were still stunned with New York City retail rentals being three to four times that of the best of Providence. They had seen the figures, had signed off on the allocation of 10% of gross income for rent and were very happy to hear we had locked that in. They agreed that I should sign now while faxing them a copy of the lease which they could review with the bank.

I called Bob and asked if he were in a hurry for the signed lease. He said “As a matter of fact, I am meeting with Chase at 4pm today, it would be nice if ….” and he hesitated as though he did not want to seem pushy so, I interrupted saying, “No problem, Bob. I’ve gone over with my partners, and they are ok with it but just want to review it with Fleet National. As long as you understand the bank may have some nit-picking thing to change later, we agreed I could sign right now.” “Now?” “Now. I’ll be over after I make a copy.” “Don’t bother, we’ll make two extra copies for you before you arrive. Come to my apartment.” Bob was apparently delighted. I knew he saw himself as a doer – one who wastes no time. No BS. No malingering. Just doing. Now, he was seeing we were one and the same and knew we would make a great team on this project. It was still before noon on Monday when I walked a block to the Excelsior on the corner of East 57th and 2nd Avenue. His home was high up  in this highly impressive cooperative building featuring a lobby to rival the most ostentatious Miami hotel. I thought ‘what a cozy little neighborhood to live in is good old zip 10022’. Then, I thought how outrageous it was that Barney’s had inspired the idea of Manhattan Eyeland and that I had helped turn Barney’s into the world’s most fashionable men’s store and yet Barney’s  location was one big negative, on the lower west side, on 7th Avenue between 17th and 18th Street, with not a fashion store for miles, and not a nice home for miles. Yet, I was going to apply the same techniques to a store located one block from Bloomingdale’s, and located in one of the two richest zip codes in America. I had two words for the task that lay ahead for me, “No” and “Brainer”.

Within a week, we were kicking butt. We had found the right architects, located 30 blocks away at the Waterside Plaza complex at East 25th street and the East River. Through the art director who had helped with out initial presentation, Chuck Cassidy, I had found the perfect designer to help with presentation materials and interiors, Peter Eaton, recently from the UK where he had been art director for British Airways and had actually designed the plane interiors. Larry was fast building a team of buyers and sales trainers, including Stella McCloud, a store manager from the East 60th Street and Lexington Avenue  Cohen Optical store, located just two blocks away, and a store “greeter” who had been renowned for the same role at Hammacher and Schlemmer, Noel Cottington. And, more importantly Larry had convinced Bruce Martin to join us. Bruce had been the brilliant lab chief who had run the EYELAB laboratory from the day it opened and, before that, had been with Larry at the wholesale laboratory, Optimum Optics. He was both an optical wizard and a pragmatic businessman. Since the core of a satisfied customer in our business is how well he or she sees, Bruce was a Gold-laying Goose.

The space we were taking was being delivered to us in raw concrete with a main power line feeding in at one concrete pillar and access to the main hot and cold water mains. We had to finish the inside of a 160,000 cubic foot concrete box, putting in electrical lines, plumbing,  air conditioning and its duct work, floors, ceilings, walls, the entire interior. We had agreed with Bob Olnick to work with the construction teams he had used for the entire 30-story building. He did not want us “taking the crown jewel” job away from the men who had been on site for two years. Since I did not want to face any possible disruption of our work by friction with the primary building crews, I agreed.

I met the brass from all the construction participants and I had a special treat for them at the meeting. My friend, Rocky Graziano, who lived just two blocks away, former middleweight champion and beloved by every common man, attended the introduction meeting. The heads of Paramount Plumbing, Henry Paul Electric, Circle Ceilings, Ment Brothers Ironworks, XXX Flooring, Prince Carpentry (Joe Podesta), Warkohl Mechanical (Richie Gruder), Rail Automatic Sprinklers, Isidore Rosen & Sons, Heritage Sheet Metal  and the Olnick construction managers, Norman Wicks and his son, Bruce, and their site manager, Fred Mateo were all there.  I introduced them to Rocky and he told them in “Street Talk” that Jack Byrne was a “real guy” and a guy they could trust. But, he added, “If he don’t treat you guys right, tell me and I’ll bust ‘im one right inna mout.” They loved Rocky and believed me when I told them of my vision of a world of vision where glasses wearers will be proud of their glasses and will realize they look better when wearing them. I told them the 20,000 square feet we were standing on were to be the launching pad for a universal change in perception of vision aids. They might have wondered what this all had to do with them but they saw that Rocky “got it”, so they “got it”. They applauded at my conclusion and all promised to assign their best men to the great and noble work to be done.

My first major task was to change the building architect’s plan for Le Triomphe so that the E 59th Street corner would be cut on the diagonal to provide  Manhattan Eyeland with a single large entrance facing both 2nd Avenue and East 59th. It was a battle,  as architect’s are quite protective of their creations,. However, he finally saw the benefit of having a “corner store” with the same access from both corner sides, and realized it did not detract from the building’s high standards. However, I did not always have my way. There  was to be a revolving door at the center of this entryway. I am a nostalgic New York Man and, at this time, The Playboy Club nearby, on East 60th Street near 5th Avenue was closing and held an auction. I won the bid on its famed revolving door ($8,000). Unfortunately, the building architect insisted our revolving door must meet building standards which the Playboy unit did not. I lost, including half the $8,000,  as the door went back to the auctioneer’s. You can’t spin them all.

Early on, I realized that despite my construction experience in overseeing the building of The Bell Data Communications Seminar in Chicago (See Post “Inproooo Incor-por-ated”), 22 years before, I was not experienced enough to put pressure on the work crews and the foremen to get the job done in a timely manner. I called my client from AT&T who had guided me throughout the Bell job, Frank Armstrong, and was delighted to find him between consulting assignments. Frank became The Man’s man-on-the-job and I became far more comfortable knowing that, for all their promises of dedication, that these slick New York construction companies would not be ripping me off.

It took less than a week, with our selected architects and art directors to lay out the full concept of the store and all of its parts. The space available was the block-long 2nd floor, 200 feet long and 80 feet wide for 16,000 square feet, plus  the 4,000 square foot street-level parcel.

We decided the street level would be composed of 3,200 square feet of sunglasses, sports goggles and other sports and leisure vision aids such as telescopes and binoculars. This was to be named Manhattan Weekender. It would also have an 800-square foot Manhattan Service center for picking up all Rx purchases, as well as for repairs, returns and for complaints. Thus, the first floor was mainly for impulse buying and attraction to all the passing populace and, secondarily, for convenience of the people returning to pick up fulfilled prescription glasses and yes, also for, keeping potential complainants from the main selling floor. This floor would have access to the Main Floor by an attractive stairway as well as by the building elevator in the lobby just outside our first floor’s back entrance.

The Main Floor was to dramatize the Manhattan theme name while logically grouping  goods by normal classifications. There would be The Manhattan Man and The Manhattan Woman departments for middle priced goods sold by sex, The Rainbow Room for high fashion frames in off beat colors and shapes, Wall Street for serious business-like frames for the financial district type shoppers, and the elegant Sutton Place for high-ticket frames kept in forty separate teak wood double-key lock boxes. Even the children’s department had a Manhattan-oriented name, Town Kids. For the bargain conscious, there would be three simulated street carts, called Delancey Street,  placed in the aisles of the store. These would not hold cheaply- manufactured goods, but, quality frame close-outs and discontinued designer frame models at major discounts.

The selling floor would occupy 10,000 of the 14,000 square foot 2nd floor running along 2nd Avenue starting from the north, or 59th Street,  side. The balance, behind a floor-to-ceiling glass wall, was to be Manhattan Lab where Rx lenses would be crafted, usually while the customer waited. At the rear of the laboratory was an 800 square foot office which would face on East 58th Street, a half block from my apartment.

“Megascan” Revolving Exam Tables from Dr. Michael D. Gordon of Derby, Kansas.

The final 2000 square feet on the second floor located “Megascan”, our eye-exam center, featuring revolving exam tables, stretched west up East 59th from 2nd Avenue. This area was to be assigned to Manhattan Rx where would also be , a comfortable waiting area and “The Great Wall of Contacts” which would house over 2,000 contact lenses to be selected by Rx by our optometrists and then fitted to their patients in our six optometric exam offices.

If you have ever built a building or a house, you know the “roughing” takes forever and the “finishing” seems to move at speed of light. That was the story of the next few months. First, of course, were the structural plans by the architect and interior designers. Step one was the electrical layout, to map  and install the underlying electrical circuitry which had to  We had to locate where all electrical outlets were required for switches or light fixtures. Step two was the plumbing layout, locating where all water lines and drainage lines would be required, bathrooms, in-store water fountains, optometric offices, laboratory, and business office, Step 3 was to lay out the air-conditioning system from the placement of the 100-ton AC unit itself through vents throughout the store premises. This meant planning the black- metal support system to hang the duct work so as not to interfere with the placement of electrical outlets or water and drainage pipes. Step 4 was the plan for the hanging ceiling with the proper holes for the lighting fixtures, power lines and AC vents. Step 5 would be the flooring plan which was to be simple roughing since we planned wall-to-wall carpet throughout and tile in the bathrooms, laboratory and kitchen. Step 6 were the walls and coverage of building support columns. Step 7 was the plan for the wide iron staircase and the three-entrance doors. The plans took three weeks, mostly because we continued to make adjustments as our vision of the final store continued to evolve.

By week four, I had approved  all plans and the work drawings for each constituent part were underway. The electricians commenced work on the tenth day of July, 1983.

The next four months seemed like a year. My impatience was overcoming my anticipation. I went to the store every day and every day looked like the day before. All the things you never see when the job is done take three times as long as you think they will, or should. Frank Armstrong had to keep reassuring me that the work was on a normal course, not for a triple-time for overtime budget, like the Bell Data Communications Seminar, but for what is normal when one works without overtime or incentive pays. The Manhattan Eyeland budget could not afford either.  My early dream of opening in Mid-October or November fast faded, it would be ideal to open in height of shopping season but this was not to be. I was not too concerned with the effect upon our opening sales because my vision was that all New York would wait for Manhattan Eyeland.  And, I had developed an advertising plan to help that vision along. Nevertheless, when October arrived and the walls were not up and nothing installed except a ton of hanging wires and sheet metal and pipes, I was just a few blocks away from panic city. Then,  our first big delivery came, the 100-ton capacity Carrier Air Conditioning unit, accompanied by remarks from the workers about “Where have you been all summer?” The next week the shipments came in earnest, wood framing, gypsum board, Armstrong ceiling tiles, toilets, urinals, water fountains, sinks, light fixtures, everything but the carpet and the lab equipment, showcases and our eyewear products.

Suddenly, there were five or six trades working at once  in the premises, bumping into each other, helping each other, and listening to Frank Armstrong’s guidance on prioritizing work stages.

Meanwhile, back at the office, things were becoming equally hectic. Larry and I had decided to install three rotating instrument tables manufactured by Michael D. Gordon of Derby, Kansas, which would be the first ever on the East Coast. We had decided, with Peter Eaton,  to go all the way with our assorted display cases and have them all manufactured by Magic Crystal in San Francisco. We had ordered,with Bruce Martin’s guidance, a complete lens laboratory from Coburn in Oklahoma including grinder and polisher and six edgers from WECO plus lens tinting and other finishing equipment and tools. It would cost $125,000 but Larry had great positive experiences with John Blocha of Coburn as had I having created EYELAB for Larry’s former partners. In fact, John credited me, years later for Coburn sales, over the years, of some 2,000 laboratories worth about $200 million in income as it was EYELAB that was first to install a lens laboratory into a store. (So why I’m not rich?)   It had to be by Coburn. We now could advise these important providers of desired delivery dates.

And, we could begin to finalize our orders for lenses, contact lenses, Rx frames and sports frames and other optical devices.

By now, Penthouse E’s roundtable was full, with sixteen people working on various projects for the coming store. Bruce Martin had two assistants for lens buying, one for lenses and one for contact lenses. Larry, had three frames buyers, one for lower end (made in China), one for close-outs and discounts, one for the high-end frames that usually sold only on Fifth Avenue, Rodeo Drive and a few other choice locations. This last buyer had to reflect a higher purpose than the mass purpose  of Manhattan Eyeland, so they had a separate company division as identification, Sutton Place. I had known this from the start as I had been through the struggle to get acceptance of the “New” Barney’s by Hubert de Givenchy, Pierre Cardin, Bruno Piatelli and other high-end designers and clothiers such as bespoke High Street tailors like Kilgour French & Stanbury. We had to PROVE to them that being shown at Barney’s would not damage their image of superiority and class. At Manhattan Eyeland, Sutton Place, was to do all that for our providers and for the customers seeking their level. The name proved to be perfect in meeting our objective with the trade as it would later with those people from zips 10021 and 10022 and with homes in Paris and London and Beverly Hills.

The buying was complicated and highly detailed, especially in contact lenses and for pre-cut prescriptions for the more common vision problems. We would be stocking over 4,000 pairs of contact lenses and over 20,000 pairs of finished Rx lenses plus another 20,000 pairs of un-cut lenses for our laboratory.

We planned an inventory of 50,000 frames ranging from a sale price of $7.50 for our Delancey Street close-out carts to $32,500 for solid gold and diamond frames provided for our Sutton Place two-key vaults on consignment by Neostyle. Heretofore, these frames were carried only in stores specializing in serving potentates from the Arab States.

Others with a place at the Round Table: our delivery specialist, Dave Murph, who I had hired to drive our new Chevrolet Station Wagon with EYELAND as its plates name and who would serve in delivering higher-end purchases to our higher-end customers as well as helping transport our own people when in need; Stella McLeod and two assistant sales trainers who were developing a training kit and product information manuals for our eventual selling staff of forty, of which no more than half would be graduate opticians; Doctor Charles XXX a highly skilled contact lens fitting optometrist who was interviewing for hiring the five other optometrists in our plan. Four chairs were left open for interviewees. In the hall on my floor, there were six folding chairs for those waiting to be interviewed by someone at the Round Table.

At the end of the hall was my more spacious office. Here, Chuck Cassidy and Peter Eaton had a room with drawing boards and all the needs of those designing literature and store interiors and displays. In my main office, there was a six-place mahogany bar and a collection of Clio’s and a wall full of celebrity photos and press stories plus custom-made (by The Village Carpenter) cabinetry geared for showing videos, 16mm films,  slide shows and quality reproduction of audio commercials. This office was made to impress upon visitors that I was capable of anything that they asked for or that I claimed. And, it did a very good job of it. Key suppliers that came to interview or sell in Penthouse E, were often invited by Larry to say hello to the “Leonardo who created this all” in Penthouse H. They went away feeling secure in our purpose, and in their commitment to us including, all importantly, giving us credit. Lots of Credit! Our task in getting credit was multiplied by the fact that we could not reveal the name of our business partner, Martin Copeland, America’s largest maker of eyeglass frames. Part of our agreement was that they would forever be protected as a silent partner. This was to protect them from retaliation by retailers who would not accept that a supplier could build a retail business to compete with their own.  All Martin Copeland could do to help our credit was to guarantee the $1.5 million loan by Fleet National to Manhattan Eyeland. Fleet National was also sworn, by contract, to secrecy concerning our industry partner.

There was no way that a $1.5 million bank loan would get our ambitious store launched without credit from suppliers, including every single seller of anything to us. And, we got it. From everyone.  In the extreme, Silor Optical, a major lens supplier from Saint Petersburg, Florida wanted to capture our entire lens contract. They offered to ship us 40,000 pairs of lenses worth some $1 million at wholesale and promised not to bill us for payment until the store opened and, then, we would have 120 days to pay. That meant, to me, that we did not have to make our first payment until after we received four months of income. Since these lenses would be marked up some 8 times after cutting and edging, we would only have to sell 5,000 pair (at $200) of the 40,000 to have the bill completely paid.  And, I was anticipating monthly sales of some 2,000 Rx transactions. It was a very good deal. We didn’t have to put any money aside to pay Silor. Our contact lens investment was equally leveraged and we would carry a $500,000 inventory without advancing one dollar. The 1,000 highest-end frames (for Sutton Place) were mostly on consignment, as mentioned earlier, and had a value of well over $1 million, but we would pay for them only as sold. We would carry some 25,000 quality frames worth another $1 million at wholesale (and $3 million at our retail price) but all were to be billed effective the  day of store opening with 30 to 60 days to pay. And, John Blocha talked his partners at Coburn laboratories into giving us six months before making our first payment pf 10% of the $125,000 and then thirty-six months to complete the balance on a monthly payment schedule. However, we did not get such good terms from Magic Glass whose business was mostly with retailers of all types and was not softened by experience with the “never-bust” history of optical stores. Doctor Michael D. Gordon, from Derby, Kansas, who invented the Revolving Examination Tables, was a struggling entrepreneur so we agreed to pay him  “a third, a third, a third” First third, with contract for order, second upon our receipt of order and the final,  30 days after store opening. But, all things considered, when Manhattan Eyeland opened its doors, it did so with over $4 million of credit, plus a $1.5 million loan, $750,000 of unpaid bills for construction, and another $300 thousand in radio commercial time which I had obtained on credit, from eight radio stations, through my one-man advertising firm, Creative Penthouse. (More on that below.)

That all adds up to a debt of $6,050,000 prior to opening our doors, not including final payments to Magic Glass for showcases and for the three Rotating Exam Tables from Doctor Gordon. It also does not include our operating costs of salaries and $62,500/mo rent (commencing the day we started to sell merchandise). Now, you may look at this and say, “WOW, how did you get all that credit?”  I would answer, “One step at a time.” Or, “How the hell do I know?” Or, “Spin a big enough dream and the dreamers and schemers will come swarming in.”

The last is probably the most true.

Whatever the logic or illogic of the credit, it gave me the opportunity to build a world-class store in the capital of the retail world and promote it in a world-class way. While the work crews were working and the Larry’s organizational group were buying and hiring, I worked with the architects and Peter Eaton on finalizing store interiors and with Peter and Chuck Cassidy on interior signage and the  creation of a 16-page Manhattan Eyeland full-color, NY Times Magazine-sized publication which was to be inserted into the New York Times, Sunday edition, over a series of weeks following our opening and, also to be dispersed by Manhattan Eyeland’s attractive young sales associates on street corners within a few blocks of the store.  At the same time, I devised a radio promotional program which would commence six weeks before the store opening to build up consumer interest to reach a peak by the time those interested could come to visit or shop.

I wanted a kick-ass signature jingle,  one of real meaning to New York. I contacted the Richard Rogers family to determine the cost of buying the rights to Rogers & Hart’s “Manhattan” (“I’ll take Manhattan, the Bronx and Staten Island, too … etc”) It was the song most identified with our city, almost from the day it first was heard as performed in “Garrick Gaieties” in 1925, nearly six decades before. I tried to inspire in the heirs the same enthusiasm I felt for my own tribute to my city in a store named Manhattan Eyeland and themed upon the city life, from Delancey Street to Sutton Place. The heirs were polite all three times I called but ended each call with a polite, “No”. I said to myself, “What to do? What to do?” Then, I expressed my dismay to my young and talented wife, Christian, who was no longer working the clubs with her act, Christian & The Lions. She asked, “Would you like me to try to write something?” I knew she could write some butt-kicking show songs as well as jingles so I said, but with not a lot of confidence, “Go to it”. That was late on a Friday afternoon. I worked all day Saturday. On Sunday, we were relaxing a bit at home when she, apparently, had a sudden remembrance, “Oh,” she said in an off-hand manner, “would you like to hear what I wrote?” I was very surprised to hear that she already had done something in such a short time and felt to my self that she wasn’t taking the job seriously enough. But, I smiled, and said, “Sure!”. Here is what she wrote and sang for me.


This was to be a “popular” song, and played on the “Island” of Manhattan. From this we adapted the lyrics to play on the “Eyeland” of Manhattan. Here is the final production, written by, produced by and sung by Christian Cooper Byrne.

05 _I’ll take Manhattan_ Full Song 1

“Some folks like the suburbs, Some folks like the shore, Some folks like the mountains, But, here’s what I adore,”

“I’ll take Manhattan every time, (New York),  Manhattan Eyeland suits me fine, (New York), Where else could I go to see the Number One rated show, Manhattan Eyeland suits me fine.”

Bridge (each phrase a different voice):  “To see good, To look good, To feel real new. See Sutton Place, The Rainbow Room, and Wall Street, too. See Megascan, the eye exam, and these are just a few departments that might interest you. All the Contacts, The Lens Lab, Town Kids and More, The world’s greatest, nicest, newest, biggest eyewear/eyecare store,”

“I’ll take Manhattan every time, (New York), Manhattan Eyeland suits me fine, (New York), Where else could I go to see the Number One rated show, Manhattan Eyeland suits me fine.”

The song was incredible. It was right on target. Gone were “Bronx and Staten Island, too” which had never fit the idea of Manhattan Eyeland. She had also written substitute “fast-chatter-break” lyrics to fit a Manhattan Island song and to give it a chance to be a popular New York song. {Jack get these lyrics and insert here}

Although, as head of Jack Byrne Advertising’s Music Department, Christian had won a few dozen awards in the Seventies, including an Effie for the Most Effective Retail Radio Campaign and a couple of CLIOs, no jingle she, or anyone else, had written could compare, in my opinion, with  the potential of becoming a popular hit as much as “I’ll Take Manhattan Every time.”

I didn’t need Richard Rogers and she was already my “Heart”.

My radio plan was to cover the story of Manhattan Eyeland as though it were a major New York event, a substantial contribution to the meaning of the word Manhattan. I would record the spots, personally, as Chairman of Manhattan Eyeland and each radio 60-second spot would focus upon a singular subject such as,  the stores that give Manhattan its unique character like Bloomingdale’s and  Saks Fifth Avenue, and how doomsayers had talked about the death of New York before the building of Trump World Tower, Dag Hammarskjold and other great buildings, and about the great New York companies and crews working to build Manhattan Eyeland, like Paramount Plumbing, Warkhol Mechanical, and Henry Paul Electric and about the great diesels eight-wheelers crossing America to bring the Coburn laboratory, the Magic Crystal  showcases and revolving tables exam equipment to Manhattan Eyeland, and so on. There would be no straight on selling of eyeglasses, contact lenses or eye exams but, only The Selling of The Event about to happen in Manhattan. The Coming of Manhattan Eyeland.

Now, I visualized that the music track of the commercial song we were to record, would run under every narrative spot I recorded and I would occasionally say words that fit the song underscoring my narrative. Once the store opened, the advertising would shift to weekly sales messages combined with the song.

Obviously, we had to contract for time on the stations prior to running the spots. I knew I had to bargain for the best rates and I knew, because of my long association with Barney’s and other New York advertisers and my radio reputation through Jay & Day, I could expect more than the usual cooperation from the media. But, I still needed to put the bargaining into a pressure cooker. Once more, I enlisted the celebrity aid of my friend, famed middleweight champion and New York hero, Rocky Graziano. Then, I invited 11 radio station reps to meet with me at the site of Manhattan Eyeland under construction. We met, under the shiny metal duct work and the bare light bulbs hanging from the ceiling, waiting for fixtures, and stood on the gray concrete flooring in about 10,000 square feet of empty space. But,  I had a small slide show which I projected upon a 4’x 6′ screen on legs, which showed Peter Eaton’s sketches of the dreamed of store, Sutton Place, The Rainbow Room, Manhattan Weekender, the staircase and the decorative lights along with photos of  Doctor Gordon’s rotating equipment tables for Megascan and the high-tech grinding, polishing and edging Coburn equipment of Manhattan Lab. I described to them the store plan and some of the key elements of our business projections. Then, I told them of what we intended for the campaign. Rocky interrupted from time to time with things like, “This guy is the Rocky of glasses – he’s gonna knock everybody eyes out” and “Maybe if I had da right glasses I wudda finished school. I wud’na had to kill guys all the time!” Everybody loved Rocky. At the end, I gave them the bad news. There were 11 stations in the meeting, only 8 stations would be on our program at 10 spots a day each. The pre-launch program period would be for six weeks, during which annual buying would be negotiated. The stations would be selected upon the value of the rate they offer to us during this pre-opening period. I also explained that I was looking for extraordinary deals now because we would not be open during this time and thus not enjoying any income. But, the weakness of radio, I told them, was that it took much longer to capture attention than TV or newspaper advertising.  My experience had shown radio could be the least expensive and the most effective medium but it had to be played for the long run. They all understood and, although concerned over the possibility of being one of the three stations left out, they returned to their offices, fired up and ready to pitch their cases to their sales managers.

In that my office was only one half a city block away, it was no big task to visit the site twice a day, once in the early morning and once near the work days end. I really did not know enough about construction to judge the work being done, Frank Armstrong’s eyes were on the job 10 hours a day and I was confident that we had the best supervision, including that of the Olnick’s father-and-son team of construction managers, Norman and Bruce Wicks. But, I wanted to be there every day to inspire the work crews and remind them of  the importance of their mission. They, to a man, were impressed that the “top man” would be on the job every day. And, I would talk to them like partners about how we planned to promote, about the unique revolving exam tables which were coming from Kansas and the Magic Crystal showcases coming from San Francisco. I would even tell them of the brilliant doctor or laboratory craftsmen, we were “able to get” to be part of the team.  Frank, through our mutual experience with woodworkers building the Bell Data Communications Seminar, knew this strategy paid off in dedication to the job and even in spreading the Manhattan Eyeland message to all their friends and family. This was not just another job. This was about what “makes New York New York”. And, I came to the site every day so they would not forget it.

Larry’s conversations with the trade and employee prospects was equally dedicated to communicate the Big Idea that was to be Manhattan Eyeland. He would always hype Jack Byrne as The Creator. Some times, he would confuse the terms, like, “He is the Mona Lisa!” instead of , “the Da Vinci!” that created Manhattan Eyeland. But, the buzz spread throughout New York and throughout the Vision Industry. We started to get calls from optical store managers and clerks and from optometrists who wanted to be part of The Big Idea. Every major frame maker wanted to be showcased at Manhattan Eyeland and that gave me an idea. With Peter Eaton, I prepared a showcase and window manual showing certain key displays that could be rented by frame makers on a monthly basis. Window showing would be at a premium. The concept was received with enthusiasm and our offerings were sold out before we opened the doors. Bausch & Lomb took a two-window stretch on 2nd Avenue that led to the store entrance to feature their Ray Ban sunglasses, binoculars, telescopes and other optical equipment. All frame makers were happy to have, at last, an optical store that could truly showcase their optical products. All felt it would positively affect their New York sales, whether through Manhattan Eyeland or through any of the other 400 smaller optical stores in the city.

The frustration of having such a full picture of my dream store while facing the snail-pace of completion to the installation of  black metal and white metal and duct work and light fixtures and plumbing lines and the metal framed staircase from Ment Brothers Iron Works finally ended in October,  when Circle started to install the 20,00 square feet of Armstrong Ceiling over our heads and Prince Carpentry began the partitioning of the walls and installing the door jambs and I began to “see” the rooms. Now, I could get as excited as Frank Armstrong, who had been able to visualize the finish back when the ductwork was first being hung.

In planning Manhattan Eyeland, I had spent a number of days tracking the traffic that would be approaching the store, from the North coming south down Second Avenue and from the West entering the city from across the Queensboro (59th Street) Bridge and it was clear that the best store exposure, especially coming up the hill of Second Avenue that crested at 58th Street was the corner windows of the 2nd floor of Manhattan Eyeland. So Peter and I decided that The Rainbow Room would be in that corner and its backdrop at the windows would be strings of moving  colored lights in the shape of two large rainbows, one for each direction.

These would stay on all night and serve as colorful beacons to the store within.

Manhattan Eyeland’s block-long emporium was located at East 59th St. and 2nd Ave., the third most-trafficked street corner in Manhattan. The Rainbow lights of The Rainbow Room can be seen through the 2nd floor windows.

They would be able to be seen, I estimated, from East 63rd Street coming up the Second Avenue Hill and, from half way across the East River coming from Queens. We ordered these special lights for early installation, prior to the store opening,  as a bit of a teaser about what was to come.

What was to come was the story of my life compressed into less than a year of it.

First the pre-opening campaign was all on radio and all the CEO (that would be me) ad-libbing over his wife’s music. Here are a few samples:

06 _Salute to Crew_ 1

07 _Great Retailers_

43 _Kings Of The Road_

44 _Salute To Associates_

45 _New York Ain’t Dead_


Manhattan Eyeland’s largest departments, Mr. and Ms. Manhattan, carried all of the world’s most popular frames in a space a  half-a-city-block long. In the background, stands the Manhattan Laboratory featuring lens-crafting in an hour.

Manhattan Eyeland’s Sutton Place featured frames from $300 to $32,000, stored in double-lock cabinets. Service was from couches and accompanied by “Manhattan” inspired music played by its pianist.

Manhattan Eyeland’s six optometrist’s rooms were all fitted with State-of-the-Art examination equipment. All examining was under the supervision of one of New York’s most-prestigious ophthalmologists.


Manhattan Weekender was entrance into Manhattan Eyeland, featuring sunwear, sportswear and optical instruments.


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