How fun to look through a storefront window and see fudge or taffy, or in my recent experience, eyeglass frames being made. While visiting the trendy historical village in the Delmar Loop in St. Louis, I spied an independent optical shop taking “Made in America” to new heights—making eyeglasses on the premises. I watched through the window as the CNC machine trimmed away colorful plastic to reveal a frame front. The colorful bits of acetate collecting in a bin reminded me of confetti. The name of this unique optical boutique is COPPERHINGE, named after their frame collection of the same name—which you may have guessed have copper hinges and copper cores. According to co-founder Jack Erker III, working with copper is a challenge they’ve mastered. The COPPERHINGE experience hinges on (pun intended) multi-layers of interactive experiences where the customer sees their locally made eyewear being produced and participates in the process. Erker explains: “Besides showing them their glasses as they’re made, we also show the customer how we custom dye specific colors of frames in vintage mason jars and let them choose one of the colors of the month or create their personal masterpiece. We can also laser engrave their name on the frame.” Local businesses like the open kitchen concept of the neighborhood Soda Fountain restaurant inspired the open store concept where patrons watch their glasses being made. This personalization and customization should come at a premium but no, a complete package with the frame, single vision lenses and anti-reflective coating cost $95.
People come from all over for the COPPERHINGE experience. But the owners cater to their local demographic in this tiny village near Washington University. The local college crowds are not digital neophytes, they’re aware of Warby Parker and Zenni. But no worries, COPPERHINGE patrons get the best of all worlds experience; a convenient and fun and engaging “bricks” retail experience at a price point that invites the purchase of many pairs. Owning many pairs of glasses and shades in many styles and colors appeals to the fun-in-fashion college crowd. As Erker puts it: “COPPERHINGE is a lifestyle brand where the customer experiences so much more than just buying a frame.” The Erker optical family legacy spans five generations with many notable accomplishments, but one stands out for me: Jack’s great-great-grandfather A.P. Erker custom designed the goggles that Charles Lindbergh used in his historic flight over the Atlantic. You can’t make this stuff up… right?!
• Deborah Kotob