PORTLAND, Maine — 2020 started out great for Todd Lapointe, owner of VIP Eyes, an optical shop on Brighton Avenue in Portland. "Business was humming along. The economy was doing great. And it just happened. And who could have foreseen this?" The governmental response to the COVID-19 pandemic brought all that to a screeching halt.
When Governor Janet Mills ordered all public facing non-essential businesses to close on March 24th, optical shops did not make the cut of businesses considered essential. But Lapointe says he and his customers felt differently, so he decided to get creative, "Delivering glasses to people who are in need, doing repairs mobily, stuff like that."
It was just enough work to keep Lapointe busy and keep a bit of revenue trickling in. But it was not enough to keep his employees on the job. "I had to let go of 10 employees," he says, "I'm gonna bring them back obviously when business picks up to the point that I can bring them back. But just like the relationship I have with my customers, my staff, my employees, are sort of like my family. I probably spend more time with them than anybody else, you know, so it was very tough."
It's those relationships with customers that Lapointe believes have set his business apart over the years and have now come back around to keep him afloat now that the chips are down. "I try and develop a personal rapport with my customers and I think that goes along way in a situation like this where people really really are happy to support a local business," he says, "I've had customers call me and say, 'Hey, I don't need another pair of glasses. But will you order one for me anyway? Because I want to support you. Which is awesome, you know, makes me feel great."
VIP Eyes has been around for 31 years, 21 of those years under Lapointe's ownership. He says he will do everything in his power to keep the doors open for years to come. "I just wasn't going to let my heart and soul fail. So I was going to be here doing what I had to do to make it work."
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