Sight for Sore Eyes

A man in need of new glasses enters Westville’s West Village Optician on a recent Saturday. He seems younger than 25 but prefers frames that are halfway to schoolmarm territory, stressing he wants nothing “too trendy.” (Is that a new trend?)

Paula D’Aniello-Lupi, the proprietor of WVO, listens and shows him numerous options. She spends about twenty minutes with him until they find suitable frames. As requested, the new glasses aren’t trendy but they do flatter the shape of his face.

D’Aniello-Lupi has spent most of her life in and around Westville. Growing up on the other side of West Rock in Hamden, her family frequented Westville in the 1950s and 60s, primarily for weekend shopping trips. A visit to the First National grocery store on Alden Avenue was always on the list; Hallock’s at 949 Whalley was the place to go for electronics and appliances; Sterling & Sussmann, the department store on the other side of Blake, was where they went to buy school clothes. Of course, a Saturday afternoon was incomplete without taking in a matinee at the Westville Theatre (roughly across the street from 904 Whalley, where her business stands today).

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Her experience in optics extends back to her high school days in Hamden. In 1972, as a senior, D’Aniello-Lupi interned at a nearby Sears Optical Department. She then began working towards a college social work degree but quickly realized that she wanted to skip the “broke” college student phase. Opting to pursue an optician’s license instead, she apprenticed for four years for an optician at a Fairfield pharmacy (in the 1970s, Connecticut required a four-year apprenticeship before one was allowed to take the licensing exams), earning her license in 1977.

During the 70s, suburban growth, urban decay and the establishment of big box stores outside of New Haven-proper drove shoppers out of Westville. D’Aniello-Lupi, however, always had Westville in her mind and, when she learned that the neighborhood was undergoing a revitalization in 1980, she claimed the front store and became the first female in Connecticut to open her own optician’s store. This year marks her 34th year in business.

She admits that, as an independent optician, it’s been a struggle to compete with chains, crediting her faithful customer base in the neighborhood—many of whom have been coming in for decades, she says—with the business’s longevity. She notes that her customers appreciate the personal service and expertise she provides—something she thinks the chains rarely offer. “Now, most young people go to the mall for their glasses or they’ll buy them online. Some come in here with problems from those glasses and learn that they should have come here first.”

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Despite the potential advantages of doing business in a more centralized location, Paula is happy staying put. “I love the people who come down here for breakfast on a Saturday, then get their glasses tuned up, have an appointment with their hairdresser. It’s so much more rewarding” this way, she says.

Entrepreneurship runs in D’Aniello-Lupi’s family. Her father owned Ideal Printing Company on Long Wharf; her older brother still owns D’Aniello’s Amity Bicycles in Woodbridge. Though she does not intend to retire soon, her hope is to keep West Village Optician independent—and woman-run. “My goal someday is to have a young woman optometrist finish school and want to have her own business. I can help her with the frames for a few years, then pass the store on to her.”

Any young women optometrists out there?

West Village Optician
904 Whalley Ave, New Haven (map)
Tues-Fri 9:30am-5pm, Sat 9am-1pm
(203) 397-1928

Written by Will Gardner. Photographed by Dan Mims.

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Will Gardner is a writer and instructor who has written for The Portland Mercury, The Stranger and the Dallas Observer. He relocated to New Haven two years ago and has already visited 53 of Connecticut's State Parks, and refuses to move until he sees them all. He also has an unhealthy obsession with the Bee Gees.

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