Imagine finding a pair of glasses in the family attic. Perhaps they belonged to a grandparent, or someone even further back – say, to the days of Queen Victoria. Now, consider that the person responsible for leaving those spectacles has descendants who are helping people correct their vision to this day – and they are right here in Louisville.
For four generations, the Krebs family of opticians has been a Louisville mainstay, starting in 1897 with Charles C. Krebs’ flagship store, Southern Optical. Today, Krebs’ grandson, Charles D. Krebs – who goes by the name “Chuck” – and his daughter, Courtney Krebs McKinney, maintain the family name at Krebs Optical in St. Matthews. “I’ve been in the business for 42 years, my daughter for 10, and my two full-time opticians for 25 to 30 years,” says Krebs. “It’s very hard to find people who know what they’re doing anymore, so we’re very lucky to have them.” Krebs’ wife, Janice, also knows a thing or two: She met her husband while working for his father, Charles H. Krebs, and she continues to handle all things financial.
As opticians, Krebs Optical does not perform vision exams or treat eye ailments; their job is to help those needing vision correction find the best eyeglasses for their specific needs. “We do the manufacturing and the servicing and the designing of eyewear and contact lenses,” says Krebs. “You look at the prescription, how the glasses fit someone, how the prescription fits in the frames.” This means that the frames – some of which come from as far away as Denmark, Sweden, England and Spain, with technology Charles C. never dreamed of — are appropriate to the wearer’s requirements and face. Large lenses, for example, would not flatter a farsighted person, as the thickness in the middle creates a magnifying effect. It’s that kind of knowledge that sets Krebs Optical apart: “It’s having the knowledge, and that’s where our profession is surely lacking today,” Krebs says. “You have to get out there and talk to people and respect them and take care of them.”
Working for family was not a foregone conclusion for Krebs. “My dad didn’t want me to go into the business,” he says. “The first generation built it, the second generation saw it built. To the third, it’s always been there.” Likewise, daughter Courtney was taken by surprise at how much the optician business felt like home. “My parents never really put any expectations on us, which is nice,” she says. “I went to school for art, and then I decided to get my optician’s license.” She cites two benefits to working at Krebs Optical: the opportunity to continue the family tradition, and the occasion to use her arts training every day. “She’s good with art, but she’s also good with people,” says her father. “She has the ability to help people design a good set of eyewear.”
As owner of one of the few independent optician companies left in the city – and one of only five opticians in the state to have earned the advanced designation of Certified Master Optician from the American Board of Opticianry — Krebs is determined to keep the personalized practice alive. “We don’t sell cheap eyewear, because it doesn’t last,” he says. “People won’t remember if they paid $50 or $500; they’ll remember if it lasts. My fear is that people will not come to an independent place to get a good optical experience. They’re going to get a second- or third-tier experience and think that’s the norm – until you go and experience it here.”
Krebs Optical is located at 129 St. Matthews Ave., near the corner of Westport Road. Contact the store at (502) 897-1199 or visit www.krebsoptical.com.
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CORRECTION: In last month’s article about Just Creations (December 2013), the Fair Trade Federation was mistakenly referred to as “Free” Trade Federation. The correction has been made to the story online. Our apologies for the typo.