Founded in 1922 by Louis Gwirtzman, Advance Optical started as a supply house operating out of a back bedroom. Two years later, Lou’s brother Sam joined the company selling frames and stock lenses. Sensing opportunity, sometime during the 1930s, a laboratory was added and a branch laboratory was opened in Buffalo.
During the 1940s, Louis commuted from Rochester and managed the Buffalo branch while Sam ran Rochester. Greyhound Express was the link between the two branches. The brothers worked seven days a week and established a reputation for quality work. It was truly a family operation. Morley Gwirtzman (Sam’s son), the present head of the company, had worked as errand boy, in the mail room and at a variety of other jobs from the time he was eight. Morley, with no interest in the optical business, graduated from the University of Michigan in Business Administration and immediately left for New York to work in the advertising field. A year later his father called with news that Louis was going in the hospital, asking him to come home to Rochester to help out while Lou was recuperating, promising it would just be for the summer. That was 1961 and Morley never returned to New York City.
The family had a tradition of spending Sunday at the office. Morley and his sister would fold mailing boxes or do whatever else was needed while their mother and father opened mail and lined up jobs for Monday. Following that, Sam took them all out to dinner. The company continued selling frames and lenses along with laboratory service and frames continue as an important part of the company’s business in the ‘90s.
During the ‘40s and ‘50s, when Kryptoks were the most-used bifocal, Advance maintained a large inventory of blanks. Morley remembers his Dad saying, “One thing you can be sure of, Morley. Kryptoks will never go out of style!”
The Buffalo office was sold to a branch employee named Frank Woodward in the ‘60s. It became the present Franwall Optical. Shortly after, Louis retired. Late in the 1960s, Sam became ill and Morley took over direction of the company and Morley’s sister Ann joined the company.
The company has always been deeply involved in frame sales and Morley remembers the impact of the Cambridge frame. For at least six months, sales were so heavy, factory back orders were a common event. Advance determined not to run out and during the peak years of Cambridge sales, the company kept a year’s inventory of that frame on hand. Their first designer line was Sophia Loren and Advance did more business with Zyloware in the month after it came out than they had in years previously. With Artcraft as a neighbor in Rochester, Advance has distributed Artcraft products for years. Artcraft is celebrating their 75th anniversary as Advance celebrates their 72nd year.
Ann’s husband, Arthur Kolko, joined the company in the ‘70s. With a computer background, Arthur had the job of expanding the lab and bringing them into the computer age. The company had occupied four different locations through the years in downtown Rochester. In 1982, the main Rochester post office moved out of the downtown area and Advance Optical followed and built a new facility a mile from the new post office. Morley and Ann’s sister Honi Lang also joined the family business. Morley, Ann and Honi each have children working at the company as they grew up. None has shown any sign of wanting an optical career but Morley keeps remembering that 33 years ago, he also had no interest in optical.
Today, Advance’s lab is completely modernized and still carries a wide range of frames and accessories. They are open 12 hours a day and on Saturdays during the winter months, continuing the tradition of quality and service backed by the family’s philosophy. The only difference today is the family no longer spends Sunday’s at the office.
Reprinted with permission from Looking Back - An Illustrated History of The Ophthalmic Industry (1994) by Joe Bruneni