A vision for Athens

Video and photos by Kelly Fulford.

By GRACE POLANECZKY – Opinions Editors

The hip shop that Jim Adams dreamt of for years, with the same prices for the past 30 years.

It is not often that I’m greeted by a Whippet upon entering a store.

Maddie is a sleek, beautiful dog, mostly white with grey and black spots. She fits right in with her environment at Adams Optics, the shop where she spends most of her time.

“I didn’t plan it that way, but she goes right along with the aesthetic in here,” shop owner Jim Adams said. “You don’t get dogs at LensCrafters.”

The shop is clad in simple black shelves against white brick walls, lined with eyeglasses of all shapes and sizes. In a corner, Maddie sits patiently on a retro black chair illuminated by a tall metal floor lamp.

Jim also looks at home in his shop. He wears a black sweater with a white collar peeking out, and big black plastic frame glasses on his forehead–which he describes as “the current rage.”

Adams Optics has not always been this way. Before moving to Jackson Street, the shop was tucked away on Clayton Street, where the ambience wasn’t quite as modern. But Jim had a vision nonetheless: black and white photographs, his collection of hood ornaments from the ‘50s and an overall minimalist vibe.

“My other place looked like a 1980s mall or something,” Jim said. “I’ve been dreaming about this forever.”


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Despite moving and reimagining the design, there is one thing that remains undisturbed: the signature price of $99 for every pair of glasses has never changed in the last 40 years.

“It’s simple, and because we don’t care what you get, we won’t try to push you into buying an expensive thing,” Jim said. “So, we’ll tell you the truth–what’s good and what sucks.”

The shop has kept more than just the same prices over the years. With loyal business comes loyal customers.

“We’ve got a third generation of people that came here when they were in school in like 1977, and they had a kid, and now that kid had a kid,” Jim said. “I’ve been here a long time. I don’t know how to do anything else.”

Just then, a young man walks into the shop wearing a pair of crooked glasses.

“Hello! What can I do for you?” Jim said.

“I’m trying to get these adjusted, I think I was here this summer.”

“OK. Give me a second, OK?”

Jim takes the glasses and goes to the back of the store. While he waits, the man plays with Maddie, who had just woken up from a quick nap. Jim comes back with the glasses, watching as the man tries them on. They look just right.

“I was in a picture with some friends over the weekend,” the man tells Jim. “And my parents called me like, ‘You need to get your glasses fixed.”

Jim laughs. He tells him the adjustment will be free-of-charge.

As a business owner in Athens, Jim has learned a lot over the years about the town, the people and himself.

“(Owning a small business) increases my appreciation for anyone that does well in business. I don’t care what they do, if they’ve survived 40 years, they did something right,” Jim said. “If I need accolades, it’s that I’m persistent. I’m still here after a long time. It’s difficult to get up and come to the same place for 40 years.”

Andrea Bocelli plays on speakers around the store. Jim sings along with the music. I ask if I can try on some glasses.

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“Of course. I wish you would!” Jim said.

I try on a pair from the 1970s, which appear to be very unflattering. Jim tells me they were made for the army in Vietnam, and that the soldiers jokingly called them “birth control glasses” for that reason.

Jim tunes back into the classical music, humming along, before handing me a pair of big clear-frame glasses from the ‘80s.

“Eighties is coming back. Big things were popular in the ‘80s, that’s why people wear big glasses now,” Jim said. “(Designers) just change the styles, so you’ll feel outdated and spend more money. That’s the name of the game.”

I try on the clear-frames. They look much better than the ones from the ‘70s.

“This is my life. I love this place,” Jim said. “Everything I’ve dreamed about for years in the optical business, I got to do it here.”

It is clear that Jim loves his shop. He’s friendly, his design is thoughtful and his knack for knowing just what glasses will fit a customer’s face is impressive, to say the least.

“(Jim) asked me to show him two frames I liked and then from those offered suggestions that were spot on,” Clarke Central High School Media Specialist Lindy Weaver said.

Jim says his ability to find the perfect pair of spectacles is a reason customers keep coming back for more.

“When somebody comes in, I can see from their face the frames that would look good, something they probably wouldn’t have looked at,” Jim said. “And a lot of people come to me because of that.”

Jim’s love for his business also shines through in how comfortable he appears.

“I think for so long, to appear professional you had to wear a shirt and a tie and a suit, and I did that for years and it was so stupid,” Jim said. “In Athens, nobody cares.”

This is just what draws eyeglass wearers to Adam’s Optics. The comfortable yet intimate environment of a shop tucked away.

“I love that personal connection with local business owners and employees, which is so much more meaningful than a corporately programmed, ‘Have a nice day,’” Counselor Heidi Nibbelink said.

The second visitor of the shop is an older man named Tony, his face covered by beard, wearing a Subway uniform. He’s homeless, and Jim has known him for years while working Downtown. Tony tells Jim that he just got engaged.

“I think it’s gonna work out well,” Tony said, petting Maddie, “Ain’t that right?”

Jim is right–you don’t get dogs at LensCrafters.

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