By Carol Masshardt
Bernard “Bernie” Nania has been seeing South Boston eyes for two decades. As the optician at Two Opticians on West Broadway for the past 15 years he knows a thing or two about people, eyes, and products.
“It’s a big deal when you need to see and can’t,” he said. “It can be your whole life. You can’t work, or get places, and people get into a panic. Not everyone has a spare pair of glasses,” he said. “I listen and never rush anyone.” Every known scenario has come his way, and he meets them all with a calm philosophy.
“I figure out what people need and let them know they have they options. Sometimes, they don’t think they have recourse if the fit or lens isn’t right, but they do. I work with people to get it right and spent the time needed,” he said.
Of course, the world of materials has changed dramatically. “It used to be steel or heavy plastic, period, and real glass lenses. Now, there is titanium and even eco-friendly material and loads of designs, shapes, colors, and sizes,” he said pointing to case after case of samples.
Bernie, born and raised in South Boston, didn’t envision himself as a licensed optician when he graduated from South Boston High School. He went into construction and auto body work, eventually marrying his wife, Theresa, and having three children. But a car accident changed his life dramatically.
“I was hit by a car and there was no way I could climb under cars or do the physical work on my knees in the cold of construction. It was 1988 and I was in the hospital for seven weeks and then rehab and had to reinvent myself. I ran into an old friend, Jimmy Barnes, who was an optician and suggested I give it a shot. I apprenticed at Gopen Optical for three or four years and got my license in 1995 and joined Jimmy in South Boston,” he explained.
Hard work and luck seem to work for him, and when one storefront on West Broadway ended in 2004, Jimmy and Bernie heard that a customer, Bob Doyle, had space.
“We called him, and he said ‘I’m getting a haircut. Come on up and look at what I have,’ and we did. We loved it and he is a wonderful guy. We just couldn’t ask for more,” he said. And the location has stayed test of time, perfect for the business, an appreciative optician and customers.
Calling this a stroke of luck, there is also something about someone trustworthy working with the same, and even as prices surge and businesses come and go, there is a sense of community with the optician, his landlord and the community.
His partner, Jimmy, retired, and now Bernie is the sole owner working with the optometrist he describes as “as good as they come,” Dr. Rae Huang. Other than dealing with difficult insurance issues, he is a man who knows and loves his business and community.
“I welcome competition,” he said. “I know the quality and approach I have, so anyone can go anywhere, but I do this the way I know best.”
“The reward is helping people and all kinds of people. You establish relationships and that matters. Sometimes, people have strokes or dementia and then eye care changes, and none of it is their fault,” he said. “Or, sometimes, someone just wants something new. It’s all kinds. It is a good career, clean and warm, too.”
Bernie is also a musician who once played drums in a band and also played guitar, but other than “little trips down the Cape,“ he seems satisfied with the life he has constructed.
Recently a late day customer appeared nervously explaining that new tri-focals weren’t working for her. She spent 15 minutes with Bernie, and left smiling broadly. “I didn’t think it would work out and now it seems simple,” she said, leaving with a plan to return in two days for glasses that suited her better. Her neighborhood optician resolved a problem once again.
Bernie put another customer at ease without even a hint of frustration or irritation. He does the same with a new customer looking for the trendiest frames.
“I love this community and my people,” he said. “I have no plans to retire.”