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A Conversation with Dr. Tracy

Posted by Gary Tracy on

GROWING UP: I was born in Utica, NY. My father was in the Army, so my family moved often – from Germany to South Carolina, Syracuse and Hawaii, where I graduated high school. I attended the University of South Carolina and earned my Doctorate at the Pennsylvania College of Optometry in Philadelphia.

GETTING INTO OPTOMETRY: I was nearsighted as a child and always found it amazing to walk into the optometrist’s office and leave with greatly improved vision. When I was a freshman in high school, we had to research professions and select our favorites. I listed optometry, especially since math and science were my best subjects.

COMING TO NEW YORK/STARTING A BUSINESS: When I got out of school, I headed to New York City. I got my first apartment in the Upper West Side, a furnished studio by Riverside Drive in the West 70s for $150. I started out by working for others, in all parts of the city. I opened my own business by accident in 1974. A friend of mine opened a flower store on Columbus Avenue and 73rd, and an identical space was available next door. I signed a five year lease; I was ready to try running my own business. It was exciting to be on the Upper West Side in those days! Neighbors would gather for volleyball and Sunday morning softball. Yet Columbus Avenue was on the brink of booming, and Lincoln Center was happening. A lot of my clients turned to be in the arts, like John Lithgow, Chris Lahti, Farley Granger, Angela Lansbury. It was exciting to watch a TV show, a movie or play, a ballet or concert, and recognize a patient. You didn’t meet people like this in optometry school! And of course, I met my wife Julie here! She came into the store one day in 1977, and the rest is history.

A SPECIAL MEMORY: TAKING CARE OF JOHN LENNON'S EYES: One day I spotted John and Yoko peering into the storefront window. The next night he walked in at closing time, requesting an exam. My receptionist was about to suggest an appointment for another day, but when I saw who it was, I immediately offered to see him right then! I was really nervous as I examined and fit him for eyeglasses. John was a regular for five years. He proved to be quite a “regular” person. I examined him several times and sold him many pairs of glasses.

MOVING ON- A NEW STORE, A NEW ERA: In 1979 I moved to my present location on Amsterdam Avenue. Both the neighborhood and business were evolving. “Hippies” turned into “yuppies,” and more optical shops moved in to serve them. To stay competitive, I had to become more involved in the business end of things. I learned about cash flow, profit and loss, managing staff and patients, dealing with managed care. And I learned about marketing – from designing attractive store displays to publishing newsletters, back in the days before the Internet.

CHANGE IS GOOD: The practice has also changed a lot since I started. For example, we can now use drops for diagnosing disease, such as topical anesthetics and dilating drops. State laws were changed to allow Optometrists to treat external diseases and prescribe treatments: anti-inflammatory drugs, antibiotics, anti-viral and anti-allergic drugs, treatments for glaucoma. Patients sometimes ask me if I’m getting bored with practicing Optometry, and I always answer “no!” It’s exciting, keeping up with a constantly evolving practice and new products. There’s a line from a Bob Dylan song that has greatly influenced my thinking: “He not busy being born is busy dying.” The world is changing with every minute, and I hope to always be aware and amazed and adaptable to these changes.

Get to know Dr. Tracy