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Warby Parker coming to former Astrein's site

By Lisa Brody

Warby Parker, the eyewear company designed to create an alternative to high priced prescription eyewear, is opening a store in the former Astrein's storefront at 120 W. Maple in downtown Birmingham.

While whispers have been churning amongst downtown merchants for months that the eyewear company was planning to open in downtown Birmingham, the company made it official when they filed an application with the city's historic district commission for minor façade renovations, including the removal of an existing awning and paint on the existing storefront.

The building to house Warby Parker was built in 1895 as a part of the Ford Building. In 1925, the Ford Building was clad in limestone, according to planning director Nick Dupuis. It was once occupied by William McBride who later expanded his candy store and restaurant known as Billy’s Place eastward into the old Hallock Grocery Store.

Astrein's Creative Jewelry inhabited the space for 50 years, until owners Gary and Richard retired and closed the store this past June.

Warby Parker is joining a creative lineage. The eyewear company state they were founded with a mission: to inspire and impact the world with vision, purpose, and style.

“Every idea starts with a problem. Ours was simple: Glasses are too expensive. Our founders were students when one of them lost his glasses on a backpacking trip. The cost of replacing them was so high that he spent the first semester of grad school without them, squinting and complaining… The others had similar experiences and were amazed at how hard it was to find a pair of great frames that didn't leave their wallets bare. Where were the options?

“It turns out there's a simple explanation. The eyewear industry is dominated by a single company that has been able to keep prices artificially high while reaping huge profits from consumers who have no other options.”

The key to Warby Parker is that there is an alternative, which they began as an online-only company initially, gradually opening storefronts in areas where they recognize there to be a market. The charm of Warby Parker is to find five or six frames you think you like, and they're sent to you at home to try on. The one you like, you have made into your prescription pair.

“By circumventing traditional channels, designing glasses in-house, and engaging with customers directly, we're able to provide higher-quality, better-looking prescription eyewear at a fraction of the going price...We also believe that everyone has the right to see. Approximately one billion people around the world need glasses but don't have access to them—so to help address this problem, we work with a handful of partners worldwide to ensure that for every pair of glasses sold, a pair is distributed to someone in need.

“To date, over 15 million pairs of glasses have been distributed through our Buy a Pair, Give a Pair program.”

Warby Parker will be joining a downtown flush with other eyewear options, including OPTIK, Shades and SEE. There is also currently a Warby Parker at the Somerset Collection.

Dupuis said they are looking to begin both exterior and interior renovations as soon as the retailer obtains city approvals.


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