When Dr. Gretchen Ryder’s father, Herb, attended Erie Technical College to become an optician in the 1960’s there were not many women in his class. Fast forward to the 21st century, where a 2014 report by IBIS World ranks optometry as one of the top six industries for women.
Ryder’s business, The Spectacle Shoppe, is a small, family-run eye care and eye wear business started by her parents, Herb and Carol Ryder, in 1968. They were later joined in the business by her brother, Tom, who is an optician and her business partner. After obtaining a Bachelor of Science degree at Le Moyne College, Ryder had a decision to make. “I wanted to be in the medical field and was unsure which direction to go,” she explained. The thought of joining the family business was ever-present. She decided to pursue optometry, attending SUNY College of Optometry in New York City and then joined her family after graduating in 1993. “Our family has been practicing in the North Country for almost fifty years,” she said.
Although she enjoyed obtaining her degree in a big city, Ryder is glad she returned home to the Adirondacks. “It is a beautiful place to live. I loved growing up in the North Country and wanted to return. Plattsburgh is a great place to raise a family. We love the mountains, skiing and hiking, the lake and all the area has to offer,” she said.
The legacy begun by her parents lives on through the decision to retain the original business name with its Olde English spelling. Antique fixtures from the original location on Cornelia Street are found throughout the office and showroom, which relocated to the Tom Miller Road in the late 1990’s. Customers who knew her parents drop in regularly with a story or fond memory from the past and Ryder and her brother, continue to care for generations of North Country families. “I couldn’t do this without my brother; we work really well together. We are fortunate to have loyal and trusted staff members in Cheryl Dixon in our Plattsburgh office and Tammy Fleury who works in our satellite office in Malone, NY. Dr. Ryder or Dr. Gretchen as she is more informally known, added, “I am blessed to have worked with my family.”
FOLLOWING ARE EXCERPTS FOR SB’S INTERVIEW WITH DR. GRETCHEN RYDER:
My mission: To make my patients feel like they are family, that they are not a number. We really take time to get to know them, talk to them and make them feel comfortable. I get to know their hobbies, what they do for work. in order to give them the best care.
Best advice: My parents always said that with hard work and determination you could be and do anything. They encouraged me to go after my dreams and I try to instill the same in my own children.
My strengths: I really care deeply about my patients. I enjoy talking with them and getting to know them as well as helping them with their vision needs. I am always caring, compassionate and friendly.
My real job description: As a small business owner you wear so many hats. In addition to caring for my patients, some days I may be answering the phone and scheduling patients while my brother is outside shoveling snow!
Tools of the Trade: The phoropter, or refractor, is the space age looking device used to determine a patient’s prescription. The slit lamp is a microscope used to check the health of the cornea, eye pressure and to check for cataracts and glaucoma. Often an eye exam can be the first indication of more serious health problems in a patient like diabetes or even heart disease. A common response to the headset Ryder must wear to examine the back of the eye after dilation, “Are you going into the mines?”
Changes in the industry: The field of optometry has slowly changed from a profession which provided eyeglasses and contact lenses to a profession that is now more primary eye care. We still do those same things, but we also treat and diagnose eye disease. I stay current in my field through memberships in the American Optometric Association (AOA) and the New York State Optometric Association (NYSOA). I attend continuing education conferences yearly, read trade journals and keep in touch with colleagues. I give credit to my brother, Tom, for successfully navigating the myriad changes the insurance industry has brought to our small business.
Favorite thing about being in business in the North Country: I love having a small practice in a small town. We can schedule appointments and take the necessary time with each person in a way that we might not be able to if we were a larger practice. The people we meet are great. So many have started out as patients and over time they have become dear friends.