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Three Decades & Counting: Larchmont Optician Keeps Her Eye On The Prize

Josie Fanelli, president and owner of Kurt Sauer Opticians  Inc. in Larchmont.
Josie Fanelli, president and owner of Kurt Sauer Opticians Inc. in Larchmont. Photo Credit: Jon Craig
Mamaroneck resident Josie Fanelli has been serving customers at Kurt Sauer Opticians Inc. since 1982.
Mamaroneck resident Josie Fanelli has been serving customers at Kurt Sauer Opticians Inc. since 1982. Photo Credit: Jon Craig

LARCHMONT, N.Y. -- What started as a part-time job in 1982 has turned into a 35-year run for Josie Fanelli.

Fanelli, a Mamaroneck resident, began working at Kurt Sauer Opticians in Larchmont when she was in high school. Which then led to Saturdays and weekends. And a two-year apprenticeship before heading to New York Technical in Brooklyn (as well as state board certification tests) to become a licensed optician.

In 1993, Fanelli purchased the shop from her longtime boss, Kurt Sauer, putting her own brand of honesty and service into play. Her philosophy is "customers first." That includes admitting when she makes mistakes. ("Not everything I make is perfection," she said. "But it's how you handle that screw-up that makes a difference.")

After being in the same locale for three decades, she knows her customers. And they know her.

A majority of her clientele, in fact, has been with the store since before her time; many remember her from her apprenticeship days.

That longevity -- plus her straightforward approach -- is what she credits in part to her store's success, especially as the market has changed. She also stressed her commitment to high quality.

Fanelli makes most of the glasses in-house where she does the assembling and finishing of frames. "Better quality control that way," she said.

And, she'll do anything to accommodate her customers. "We will even deliver if we have to," she said.

Business has gotten more challenging as the years have gone on so service is key. In the "old days," doctors would recommend Kurt Sauer to their patients. "They did the exam and handed the prescription to the patient," said Fanelli. Now, doctors have their own optical shops.

Plus there's online shopping which has changed the industry dramatically. Coupled with the slowdown of Larchmont's foot traffic, Fanelli admits her margins are thin.

Still. There's nothing she loves more than coming to her shop every day and seeing many of the same faces she grew up with -- plus many new ones.

"A lot of my colleagues that have stores are amazed that I don't take insurance [as a direct payment] and I’m still here," she said. Nor does she have a doctor that does examinations.

Instead, customers bring in their prescriptions and Fanelli, with her eye for detail and knowledge of frames, helps them pick what they like. Customers, she stressed, can get reimbursed by their insurance.

"My customers have to make it a point to come here after they are handed a prescription," she said. And that's a commitment."

Kurt Sauer Opticians Inc. is at 1935a Palmer Ave., (914) 834-8015.

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