Optics Family Sees Their Way Clear From Israel To Westminster

Parents Join Son In Establishing Optic Ivy Business

July 17, 1991|By June Kurtz | June Kurtz,Contributing writer

WESTMINSTER — Naftaly Schwartz had a successful 35-year-old optical business in Jerusalem -- he even made a pair of glasses for an Israeli prime minister.

"In Jerusalem, I was very famous," said Naftaly, 56. "Ninety percent of the people know who I am."

Nonetheless, Naftaly and his 51-year-old wife, Pnina, decided they wanted to be closer to their children. So the couple closed their established store and moved to the United States 4 1/2 months ago to start an optical business with their 31-year-old son, Udi.

The Schwartzes are waiting eagerly for their son Moish, 25, who is a pre-med student at Hofstra University in Long Island, N.Y., to join the family business. But first he must complete his education -- he plans to continue his studies at an optometry school in Philadelphia, Pnina said.

Another son, 20-year-old Boaz, will spend two more years in Israel before joining the family. Their daughter Michal, 29, who is married with one child, is settled in Jerusalem and has no plans to come to the United States, Pnina said.

The demand for glasses at the Jerusalem business wasn't high enough for Udi to be needed, Naftaly said. And, he said, Udi did not have enough money to start a business ofhis own. It cost nearly $100,000 to open Optic Ivy, the family's business in Cranberry Square, Naftaly said.

Despite receiving job offers from a number of French optometrists after being selected as the best lab technician in Paris, Udi packed up his wife and 3-year-old daughter and came to the United States.

"The world is big, and we say it is foolish to die foolish," he said. "I want to see everything."

They faced some unexpected obstacles here. Naftaly was told he cannot practice optometry in the United States because his medical degrees are not from an American university.

So Naftaly sent a letterto the State Board of Examiners in Optometry, asking the board to consider his credentials and to allow him to take a licensure exam, Pnina said.

The board agreed to review his qualifications, Pnina said, but has not rendered a decision.

The couple also had some difficulty applying for a mortgage because they had not established a line of credit.

"In Israel you don't have a thing like credit," Pnina noted.

But they overcame what Udi called "bureaucratic problems," and on June 7 opened Optic Ivy. The eyeglass store has a selection of 1,000 frames for men, women and children that range in price from $20to $330.

"It was much easier than we thought," Naftaly said. "I thought it will be difficult, but people are people -- women want to be pretty with the frames everywhere. People want good professional advice."

"And people need glasses everywhere," Pnina added.

"So we decided to be here in Westminster," Naftaly said. "And I think we are lucky that we chose the right place. Wherever I meet people . . . they give us a good welcome."

The Schwartzes considered moving to Boston, where Naftaly's father had once lived, but the rush of the city and the cold weather turned them away.

"We are not people of nightclubs and bars," Naftaly said. "We are more simple people who lovethe country air and nature."

"If you walk around and hear the birds singing and the trees are green, it's good enough for us," Pnina said. "Because they are the first ones to escape from a poisoned area."

So when the couple looked out the windows of an airplane and sawthe land in Maryland lined with trees, they knew they had found their future home.

But the search for a place to set up shop was not over when the plane touched ground. The Schwartzes covered nearly 8,000 miles in the Baltimore-Washington area by car, rejecting the big cities, as well as Annapolis, Bel Air, Frederick and Silver Spring.

Instead they opened the store in Westminster and rented an apartment in Pikesville with Udi and his family, where they will live until they find a house in either Carroll or Baltimore County, Naftaly said.

So far business has been somewhat slow, Naftaly said, explaining that many Carroll residents do not know about the store.

"I can't say it was very busy, but still, it wasn't dead," he said. "For the first three weeks I can't complain."

The family hopes newspaper ads and direct mailing will increase business, Naftaly said.

"People will come in time," he said. "They will get good work, good quality."

Carroll residents will spread the word, Pnina said: "The best advertising is mouth-to-mouth."

The name of the store, Optic Ivy, has attracted attention, Pnina said, adding that she is constantly asked what it means.

"Our optic is 'Ivy League,' " she said. Customers are the most important facet of the business, and the family strives toserve all their needs, Pnina said.

"Through 35 years in the business we have done all kinds of frames," she said. "There is nothing inoptics we do not know how to do. We can really help."

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