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Living History

100 Years of Moscot

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A whole century is a long time. In a matter of one hundred years, the world can literally turn on its head. The most incredible things can happen within a century, think of all the changes and inventions transpiring in such a time frame. Families develop, new generations are being born, traditions and wisdom are passed on. A century has a way of defining things in a new way.

The Moscot family is also looking back on a century of traditions. When Harvey Moscot landed on American soil, the year was 1899. The immigrant hailing from Eastern Europe was looking for a future, and found it in New York City. He sold eyewear frames from his pushcart to make a living, every day pushing his wares up and down Orchard Street in New York’s Lower East Side. And the rest, as they say, is history.

Ever since the first brick and mortar store opened in 1925 on Orchard Street, it has been a true Manhattan retail institution. The Moscots passed on their business from generation to generation, preserving the fascination with their product. More than that, the fascination grew steadily over the years.

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Today, more than a century after his grandfather and namesake offered his first wares in the heart of New York City, Dr. Harvey Moscot is looking back on a proud family heritage. And it’s an impressive one at that, a uniquely American success story and a tale of passion, dedication and continuity.

Dr. Harvey Moscot, who holds a doctorate in optometry and a degree in psychology, has been running the family business since 1986. As the VP of MOSCOT and Director of MOSCOT Eyecare, he cultivates a hands-on attitude. Under his influence, the MOSCOT Eyecare business grew into one of the most renowned eye clinics in the entire United States. Since 2008, he has been directing the MOSCOT Mobileyes Foundation, a charitable organization offering free eye examinations in the streets of New York. The bottom line is: MOSCOT is more than just a lucrative business – it’s true passion put into action.

And the glasses? All of them are unique and timeless. Which is not to say out of touch with the times – just the opposite. MOSCOT designs are enduring favorites when it comes to eyewear frame designs. For some reason, their style has always surpassed fashion trends, defining a unique individual style – which is the calling card of the brand: Playing a big role in the scene, without adapting to trends. Staying in touch with what’s hot, without trying to cater toward fleeting fashions. And the best thing about MOSCOT glasses: their ability to be 100% recognizable as their own unique thing. Need proof? What about celebrity photographer Terry Richardson – without his signature MOSCOT glasses? Terry and his trusty “Terry” model – indeed named after him – are practically inseparable, and he has worked on the re-release himself. The list of celebrity MOSCOT wearers is endless – but the brand does not seek out this kind of fellowship. The priorities are rather on customer retention at a high level. Service is where it’s at for MOSCOT. New innovations, like the virtual 3D Try On, Fan Totes and t-shirts as well as a blog that is constantly churning out news together with regular, small-scale music events set the scene for a culturally connected brand, and these are the reasons why MOSCOT continues to outshine any competitor.

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More than a company, MOSCOT is a cult phenomenon. At the risk of sounding pathetic, it may be said that the Moscot Family (extending far beyond direct blood relatives) is held together by a strong bond of mutual love. And a sense of tradition, brought into the modern age through lived experience – just sit in one of the grandfather chairs at the store, let your eyes wander around to take in the vintage models from the store’s early days, and you’ll see for yourself. Plus, the glasses themselves are more than just glasses, but true works of art. By purchasing a pair of MOSCOT frames, customers also take home a part of rich family tradition. It’s all real and authentic here at the Orchard Street store in the heart of Manhattan. Even a century later…

We talked to Dr. Harvey Moscot about the past, about Moscot’s values and his passion for eyewear.

Dr. Moscot, please describe in your own words the most significant elements of MOSCOT eyewear.
We are talking about nearly 100 years of eyewear expertise coupled with our tireless passion for, and commitment to, delivering a special, pleasurable, and memorable experience to each and every MOSCOT customer. Everywhere in the world. While we are very proud of our past, we are equally excited about our future… we are “Living History!“

Speaking of “Living History.” Please tell us your first conscious memory regarding the family business.
I remember working behind the counter during the summers as a teenager alongside my grandfather Sol, my uncle Hesh, and my father Joel. I learned so much about selling eyewear and delivering exceptional customer service. They were each so great about striking up real conversations with our customers – talking to them about so much more than just glasses, while making sure that the customer’s frames fit perfectly. This taught me that if you treated people with respect and humility, they would return and recommend your shop to others.

How would you describe MOSCOT’s philosophy in a few words?
We stay true to ourselves and to our core values of fairness, kindness, respect, empathy and humor. We take pride in our long-standing experience and expertise and let it help guide us. We are strongly rooted to The Lower East Side of Manhattan, and New York City in general and this helps inform our sense of fashion. This downtown sensibility, sense of history, and respect for our values as a family and a company, are prevalent in everything we do.

When did you realize that you wanted to follow the family tradition?
I always loved eyewear and the construction process. From age eleven onward, I worked alongside my grandfather in the shop, learning to attach frame fronts to temples. Working in the shop as I grew older, I learned to love interacting with customers, helping transform their look and their lives with a pair of eyeglasses. To this day, I am still amazed at what a difference a pair of new eyeglasses – MOSCOT frames – can make in someone’s life.

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Let´s talk about family bonds. How important is that to you?
It’s critical. As a fourth generation Moscot, and growing up working in a family business, I understand the true value and uniqueness of this. My brother and I were partners for many years and his tragic early passing in late 2010 is something I think about every day of my life. Our bond motivates me on a daily basis to continue the MOSCOT legacy. Now my son, Zachary Sol Moscot, a fifth generation Moscot, is graduating design school and has plans to enter MOSCOT. This is incredibly gratifying and exciting to me. I also now view all those involved, especially my co-president, Wendy Simmons as family, too!

Despite your strong family bonds you initially went to university. Did you always plan to return and run the family businesses before you started studying?
Once I committed to four years of graduate school, in Optometry, I knew I was destined to return back to NYC and join the family business.

Why did you decide to study psychology?
Since we are all works in progress, I thought this discipline would not only help me but contribute to, in a positive way, my ability to interact with customers and staff throughout my career.

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The MOSCOT claim differentiates between “eyewear” and “eye care“ – please explain these two values.
Eyewear describes The MOSCOT Collection of eyewear, our three retail shops in New York City, and our overall optical expertise. Eye care describes our expertise in performing, right at our shop locations, all aspects of eye care from routine eye exams to treating eye disease and conditions.

You also offer contact lens work for film and theater assignments; please tell us more about this work.
Many of our patients are costume designers, stylists, prop masters, actors and other members of the film and theater community, who need contact lenses for the work they do. After years of serving these patients, we’ve been lucky enough to establish ourselves as the go-to vision specialists for this community.

Tell us more about your cooperation with Terry Richardson. How did this whole thing come up?
Terry wore his signature frame that he’d purchased years ago continuously, and it had become rather damaged. He liked our brand and the Originals concept, and was a neighbor of our Orchard street shop. So, he contacted us about a collaboration, and The TERRY was born. It’s been so much fun, and Terry is certainly an original!

Your charity commitment is outstanding. Please tell us something about this work and motivation.
As a company that has been part of New York City – and in particular The Lower East Side – for nearly 100 years, we felt strongly it was important to give back to the community that has supported us. We also wanted to provide an opportunity for our staff to contribute to the community they work in. We now provide free onsite medical eye examinations and provide free prescription frames to those in need in our immediate community. Our staff loves the opportunity to volunteer and nothing feels better than seeing the smile on someone’s face who can see clearly for the first time. It’s amazing what a difference a pair of glasses can make in a person’s life.

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MOSCOT eyewear is incredibly timeless. Is that for stylistic reasons or is that because you cling to traditional values?
Our MOSCOT Originals stay true to what they are: classic, timeless designs that never go out of style – just like a great pair of jeans, a well constructed white shirt, or wing tip shoes.

Please describe a typical pair of MOSCOT glasses.
Bold, clean, classic, strong, fun, and a projection of the personality of the person wearing them.

What kind of technologies do you use for your production process?
With nearly 100 years of eyewear expertise, we are very sensitive when it comes to to quality and spend a lot of time analyzing and perfecting our production processes to ensure the highest quality possible – for example, our frames are still made largely by hand with plastic cure times that are longer than average.

Why do you use real glass for the sunglasses?
Because our MOSCOT Originals are meant to be replicas of our family archives and therefore using real glass lenses is authentic, genuine, and the way we have sold these frames for decades.

You are still located in the same store your forefathers have started out back in the days. How does that feel?
We moved to our current shop on Orchard Street, from our original shop around the corner on Rivington Street, in 1936, and aside from upgraded medical equipment, it hasn’t changed much! Our special peg and groove chairs that my grandfather bought in the late 1930s are still being used by our customers, as are our original eyewear displays – even some of the artwork! I love working at Orchard. I feel like I am reunited with my ancestors every time! It’s very special indeed.

What do you like about your homeland and more specifically: your neighborhood? What is special about NYC?
New York City is a special place because of the creative energy that exists everywhere. People are able to fully express themselves, whenever and however they see fit. There is great freedom and experimentation that occurs everyday.

What defines a classic design?
Design that is influenced by historical elements that continue to function and compliment life

What is the most important thing regarding the design of glasses?
The frames must function as well as they look. Specifically, glasses must fit well on most anatomical facial variations. They must compliment someone’s personality and not completely overpower the person wearing them.

What kind of person is wearing MOSCOT? Do you have a “typical“ customer?
Not really. Our clientele is really varied. We have retail shops with open doors and open arms and everyone is welcome.

What is the MOSCOT Music and Gallery Space all about?
The MOSCOT Gallery and Music Space stems from my love for music and having played in bands, and from the overwhelming love of music that exists among MOSCOT employees. Incorporating music into our brand provides a platform for our employees to connect with their passion, while providing a very cool venue for local artists to share their craft – another way for us to give back to our community. We host MOSCOT Music, Live From The Shop, which are free, live, up close and personal music performances at our Orchard Street Gallery and Music Space; and now in our Brooklyn Backyard on Court Street.

You are selling more than a pair of glasses – you have a whole image that comes along with them.
Oh yes, we are selling living history! Genuine, authentic products based on our archives. When you put on a pair of MOSCOT Originals, you are really connecting to aspects, traditions, generations of downtown New York City from the past 100 years. We are original opticians and eyewear purveyors from the turn of the century… we started selling from a pushcart… that’s a strong message of heritage and legacy.

Who of your family is still involved in the active family business? Who is in charge of what?
I am the only Moscot currently working full time in the company. Wendy Simmons, our co-president, and I run all aspects of MOSCOT everyday. We’re a very collaborative team. We also recently hired my niece Alexandra who oversees production, but again, all of our employees are truly family.

It’s all about service, right? Is that one of your unique selling point? Live chat, 3D Try ons, gift certifications…
Oh yes, just as our Grandpa Sol, Uncle Heshy, and dad Joel always have, we strive for long lasting relationships with all of our customers and truly treat each customer like family.

Who is in charge of the designs?
We have a small collaborative design team that works closely together to design our frames. We work mainly with acetate for our Originals, but recently introduced metals that are stainless steel and monel.

What is the MOSCOT vision for the future?
Staying true to our roots, while we hopefully have the opportunity to continue sharing MOSCOT with the world.

Dr. Moscot, thank you very much for the interview.

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