From the cockpit to the sunglass biz, see how one aviator brought his expertise to a new sunwear shop in historic York, PA
it’s true—pilots LOVE sunglasses (and not just aviators). That love of sunglasses and a deep understanding of their performance features led former U.S. Air Force and current commercial airline pilot Steve Arbetman to launch a successful online sunwear business (flightsunglasses.com and skyopticsusa.com ), then create a brick-and-mortar store that serves people who want an equal helping of style and performance in their sunwear.
Sky Optics is located in historic downtown York, PA, which has—like many downtown areas—experienced a revitalization with small businesses, chic restaurants, and art galleries. It’s the perfect spot, he says, to serve a community that values old-fashioned customer service mixed with modern technology.
Arbetman, who runs the store with his wife, Trish, worked on the design of the space with Helen Rogic of One Interior, an optical design firm. Here, they talk to EB about the design challenges and victories that ensued.
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“The building was built in 1900, so we had a lot of rewiring and structural challenges,” Arbetman says. “I wanted to stay with an old, historic feeling, but I wanted to bring in the ‘new’ and give it an industrial chic-type feel.”
For the design, Arbetman stuck to simple elements: wood, stone, and metal. Old industrial fixtures were either highlighted or brought in (metal pipes, ironwork, etc.), and the walls were clad with warm wood tones. Slick signage highlights a focus on performance, as well as style.
“I want customers to have a great experience when they walk into Sky Optics and for them to feel that we are different,” Arbetman says. “I believe that performance should go hand in hand with style and fashion.”
Eschewing paint for the walls, Arbetman worked with a gentleman who reclaims wood from old Kentucky barns. “There are some beautiful colors in there, soft browns and grays, even a little blue.”
The centerpiece, however, is the store’s main table.
“I worked with a local metalwork artist [Patrick Sells] who used reclaimed metal pieces from old York factories, and he got some old pipes from the Harley-Davidson plant in town,” Arbetman explains.
Topped with marble, the table holds frame displays.
The dark, rustic wood walls are offset with modern, LED-lit shelves that feature floating storage underneath. The result is a beautiful mixing of old and new, historical and modern.
“Frame boards remind me too much of a medical office—it seems a little impersonal,” Arbetman notes. “I like for someone to be able to take something off the shelf and try it on, without having to jiggle it back into place. I wanted to make people at ease here, and to know that they can touch and feel.”
Adds One Interior’s Rogic, “The shelving throughout the entire store is kept very simple and sleek as opposed to the strong textured walls. The LED light in the shelf supports the frame presentation and brings the focus back to the product.”
“Color-enhancing lenses are in,” Arbetman says. “So many of the top performance brands have them. It’s almost standard now as the best. Also, the new nylons for frame materials are great.”
Specific lens colors and treatments (polarized versus nonpolarized) are better for certain activities, so the store’s staff takes care to steer customers toward what’s best for their needs.
“Some people come in thinking they want a specific brand, but after we talk with them awhile and figure out their needs, they end up with a different brand that they didn’t even know was what they needed,” says Arbetman. “Customer satisfaction is very important to us, so listening to customers and helping them find what they really need is important.”
Sky Optics’ Best-Selling Brands: