Harvard Square Optical Closes

Over the past decade, the number of eyewear shops in Harvard Square has climbed into the double digits, leaving little room for Harvard Square Optical, which closed in April.

The store operated in the Coop from 1946 to 1996—selling glasses to famous faculty, students, and Cambridge residents. When the small space inside the Coop could no longer hold their growing customer base, the store moved to 65 Mount Auburn St.

But without the prime real estate, the store struggled as the economy took a turn for the worse. Then, last winter sales declined even further.

Neil Cohen, third generation president and optician of the store, shut the doors the following spring.

“We were a staple in Harvard Square,” Cohen said. “I ran a one-man business. I got to know people, and they got to know me.”


Cohen said he provided personal service by going out and looking for frames for customers when he did not have them in stock.

Cohen now works as a traveling optician, bringing a selection of frames and making glasses for customers at their homes, and in an optical shop in Westford, MA.

Harvard Square Optical Shop faced increasing competition in the past decade after many new optical shops opened in the Square, including national chains and other independents.

Eye Q Optical on Eliot Street started in 1999. Store owner and co-founder Paul Fox said he “conceived the shop for the new millennium.”

The company, with two other locations in the Boston area, designs its own lines of frames.

“As a small business, you need to have every edge you can to compete with the nationals. We offer a unique collection of frames,” Fox said.

Lawrence A. Phillips, an optometrist from South Africa, founded Brattle Square Optical in 2007. He had worked at For Eyes at 56 JFK St. for 18 years, until he decided to open his own shop.

“When you come from another country, it’s easier to work for a chain. You don’t need to make any investments. The chain supplies everything,” Phillips said.

Phillips focused his shop on exclusive frames and contact lenses, his specialty.

Despite the rise of optical shops over the last decade, Cohen said he expects that trend to change as consumers continue to turn to contacts and laser eye surgery.

“It’s not a good time for an optical shop,” Cohen said.

—Staff writer Kerry M. Flynn can be reached at