Warby Parker launched in 2010 as an e-commerce brand, allowing customers to shop for glasses online and try them on at home for free. It experimented in retail for a few years, opening showrooms in other retailers and even sending a gutted school bus around as a mobile showroom through an initiative called the Warby Parker Class Trip.
The trendy glasses/sunglasses company opened its first storefront in 2013 in SoHo in Manhattan, near the company’s headquarters. This Saturday, it will open its first North Carolina store at South End’s Atherton Mill.
While the online business was doing well, Warby Parker found during its bus journey that clients also like to experience the brand in person, and have now opened stores in most of the cities they have traveled to. While the yellow bus never made it to Charlotte, the city’s store will be Warby Parker’s 48th location.
The store’s grand opening is March 4 from 11 a.m.-7 p.m., with juices provided by Living Kitchen around the corner.
Here are five surprising facts I stumbled across during my visit:
(1) There are books everywhere.
In addition to glasses and sunglasses, of course.
“Our stores are all designed to feel like you’re walking into a classic library,” said Ruthie Thier from the communications team. “We want people to walk into our store and feel like they are about to shop for glasses the way that they would shop for books in a library. Kind of leisurely and fun, and they might come across something they didn’t expect.”
Color-coded decorative books line the tops of shelves (this should appease the obsessive-compulsive eye), while books lining the bottoms of the shelves are for sale. Some books are framed on the walls, like “A Wrinkle in Time” by Madeleine L’Engle, as well as quotes from writers like Kurt Vonnegut.
There is suspended globe lighting, leather seating and marble-topped tables with brass detailing. In the back of the store you’ll find the “reference desk,” where you can make returns, exchanges, purchases, adjustments and find styling advice. The desk represents their fusion of online and offline retail, Thier said.
(2) The Warby Parker name is derived from literature.
This explains the book theme. Warby Parker was conceptualized when a student lost his glasses on a backpacking trip with friends and avoided buying new glasses for a semester of grad school because of their crazy cost. The friends united to start this company, which is intended as an alternative to that high expense, mostly by designing glasses in-house.
As for the name, “Warby Parker” is the combination of two names found in author Jack Kerouac’s journals when co-founder Dave Gilboa was checking out an exhibit at the New York Public Library.
(3) The glasses are perched on open shelving.
The company wants the retail experience here to be different from the typical optical shopping experience. So nothing is locked on the shelves.
“Because it’s such a personal product that you put on your face you might want to do it alone,” said Thier, rather than asking permission.
(4) There are elements of this space that are unique to Charlotte.
Take in the original mural painted by artist Anna Kovecses on the far wall behind the reference desk (see featured photo). Or the Charlotte Exclusive sunglasses that can only be found in this store: Ormsby in Whiskey Tortoise with Flash Mirrored Pacific Blue lenses.
This Warby Parker space also respects the vibe of Atherton Mill, with a smooth concrete floor and exposed ceiling. (The company loves Atherton Mill’s farmers market component and industrial atmosphere.)
(5) When you buy a pair of Warby Parker glasses, you are supporting someone in need.
“For every pair of glasses sold we distribute a pair to someone in need” through nonprofit partner VisionSpring, Thier said. “Every new business that starts these days should have something like that, should have a do-good mission.”
Read more about the “Buy a Pair, Give a Pair” program here.
Ready to shop?
You might want to know about pricing. Glasses start at $95 including the prescription lenses. Once you make your purchase, prescription glasses can be shipped in days, but frames with non-prescription lenses can be taken home that day. For the endless ponderers, in-store advisers can send a digital overview of the frames tried on in the store through an app called Bookmark.
Warby Parker Atherton Mill: 2000 South Blvd.
Hours: Tuesday-Saturday 11 a.m.-7 p.m.
Photos: Katie Toussaint