Student's eyewear shop looking good

Naysayers have often had a way of motivating Sapphire Garcia.

Five years ago, they inspired Garcia to stand up in front of her peers at South High School and make a successful plea to become senior class president.

Last summer, their nudge helped the 22-year-old who wants to be a doctor open Urban Eyes of Wichita, a small optical store near Wesley Medical Center.

"Being young, people tell you not to do things like this," said Garcia, a pre-med student at Wichita State who sat out the fall semester to launch her business. "They knew it was pretty much sink or swim, and somehow, I've been able to swim."

Garcia, who supplies frames and lenses to a wide range of customers, had positive influences in her pursuit, as well. She got her first job working for an optician at 16. The previous tenant in Garcia's shop, Ashley Bass, is a childhood friend who started Eyeworks Eyewear Shoppe as a teenager.

Despite financial institutions balking at Garcia's request for assistance to start Urban Eyes, she opened June 1 with $500 to her name.

"This time a year ago, I was a waitress at a bar and things were pretty bad," Garcia said. "I was used to working in an office setting, but I was doing everything I could to scrape by and make those monthly tuition payments.

"I never thought I would be able to have my own business."

Garcia has made Urban Eyes a beacon for customers with their own financial constraints. Shortly after opening, she launched a low-income vision services program, networking with participating eye doctors to set up reduced-fee exams for customers who had no health insurance and met income requirements. After receiving their prescriptions, many of those customers return to Garcia to purchase discounted glasses.

Urban Eyes stocks approximately 1,000 frames in about 20 brands, Garcia said. About half of her inventory qualifies for reduced pricing.

"You're not going to get a $500 pair of Versace glasses for $100," Garcia said. "But when you need glasses and you have to have them to be able to see and function every day, if you can't afford it, that shouldn't be an obstacle to getting them."

Garcia is also exploring the possibility of offering mobile services to homebound customers with eye care needs.

"I'm impressed at how she really cares," said Frances Davis, Garcia's aunt, who has assisted with the store's accounting, setup and cleaning. "That's why people can afford what she's offering. She's not trying to get rich quick."

Still, Garcia wants to appeal to all customers and create enough business success to resume her education. She is hoping to return to classes in the summer.

Until then, Garcia is trying to enjoy the ride.

"I love doing this job," she said. "I love talking to people, and every person who walks through that door, usually after 10 or 15 minutes their barriers start to break down and they tell me little tidbits of their life. I like getting to know my customers as people."