Virginia Burton, owner of Burton Optician, knows how to take care of a pair of glasses. She can tell when a pair of glasses looks crooked, needs new nose pads or requires a cleaning.
“If you take care of your frames, they’ll last a long time,” she says.
Burton has had glasses since the fourth grade, but she didn’t think about becoming an optician until a bit later. She was working as a clerk typist in the University of Texas library system and found that her salary wasn’t high enough to afford air conditioning. She met an optician, a friend of someone she knew, who bragged about his new car. After meeting him, Burton decided to become an optician.
“I think of glasses as a fashion accessory”
— Virginia Burton
Burton fell in love with the eyewear industry. Her first optician job involved working with a person she described as the most vulgar and abusive person she had ever worked for. But she learned a lot from this person, she says, and decided that, to make the most of her situation, she had to keep her mouth shut.
Then she applied for a job at Lugene, which she calls the “crème de la crème.” She found out that she was good at this; her sales were high. She was also reading books on women and business, during a period when women’s roles in the workplace were still being stereotyped.
Itching to move away from Texas, Burton wanted to work either on the West Coast or the East Coast, with Washington, D.C., her first choice. In 1981, she was finally offered the opportunity to work at a D.C. branch of Lugene. However, after a while she decided to strike out on her own. She borrowed $50,000 from her younger brother and opened her own store in 1989.
Burton paid back the loan with 10-percent interest in five years. She moved the business to its current location, 3252 Prospect St. NW, in 1999 and plans to stay there indefinitely. Now 72, she has clients she has known since they were in elementary school.
Burton pays special attention to the needs of young women, who want glasses that will help them do better in the working world and glasses that will help them in their romantic lives.
“I think of glasses as a fashion accessory,” she says.