A middle-aged female mail carrier wearing U.S. Postal Service-sanctioned blue shorts and top enters the store while Cynthia Daté, 48, and I conduct this interview. We’re chatting about the retail boutique she owns and operates with her sister Christine, 46, who wasn’t there that day, preferring to let Cynthia do the talking.
“It’s hot out there, huh?” Daté (pronounced “dah-tay”) asks the postwoman. “Sorry for another box,” she says, handing a package over.
It was, like, so Main Street. I believe Daté even knew the postal worker’s first name. Is this the L.A. you know?
Clearly, there were never such devoted sisters.
Yes, the owners of Optique by Cynthia & Christine, the beloved local optical house (with 25 five-star reviews on Yelp), remind me of the lyrics in Irving Berlin’s female-siblings-in-arms anthem from White Christmas. (Although I recommend the 2003 Bette Midler-Linda Ronstadt version produced by Barry Manilow.)
These two gals have been working together in, shall we say, “vision solutions,” since 1985. There’s even a third sister, the eldest, who works in the same industry but for another company.
Their parents met back in 1963 in a coffee shop that used to stand on the corner of Olympic and Western. Mom was a waitress of Irish descent, and Dad was a cowboy with a Texas twang.
“It’s now a Bank of America,” said Cynthia’s mom on speakerphone. Yes, that’s the kind of person Cynthia is. As if she were a contestant on “How to Be a Millionaire,” she called her mother directly to get the story straight. Great service, even for journalists, appears to be Daté’s passion.
But here’s what got me: “My father was born in the internment camps during the Japanese War,” Daté said.
It was 1943, Poston, Ariz. And by the time they were released in 1945, his family had lived there five years.
The family originally was from Southern California. “They lost everything,” Daté said. “They had a house. They had a farm. All the American Japanese had everything taken away from them.”
That was eye-opening – and I had no prescription to fill.
Cynthia and Christine’s retail journey started back in 1998 when Cynthia worked for an optometrist in Santa Monica. A guy named Franco who had a “heavy accent” pitched her to work for him at his Maison d’Optique in Studio City. Miserable in her job, and despite hating change, she made the leap.
“He had heard from [eyewear] sales reps that I was really good at what I do,” Daté explained. “And the first three weeks I didn’t sell one thing [laughs].”
What saved her? A colleague in Franco’s WeHo store didn’t show up for work one day.
“Go down to Santa Monica and Robertson,” Daté recalled her boss saying. “That’s gonna be your store.”
She had Franco hire Christine, “and that’s when it all started.”
Twelve years later, in 2010, the sisters bought the location and its inventory (including boxes of 20-year-old frames that Daté now proudly sells as “vintage”). The sisters dropped the “Maison d’” and voila!
“That was always our dream,” Daté said. “To own the store … We love the location. We love the people.” They must. The duo commutes to and from Torrance every day, though not on the same days. “I’m here on Saturday, Sunday, Monday and Tuesdays,” Daté said. Cynthia is at the shop Wednesdays, Thursdays and Fridays.
Like so many entrepreneurial pairs, the sisters split duties according to personality. “I’m more of the social one. I’m the one who created our Instagram, got us on Yelp and Facebook. I’m on there all the time, “Daté said. Christine “doesn’t do any of that stuff.”
Optique carries brands other stores don’t. “We have Robert Marc…Lunor. We carry Freudenhaus. They’re made in Munich.” She’s explicit about not carrying lines made in China, Hong Kong or Korea.
When I asked for this interview I noticed a big emphasis on service. I came in with a friend who needed one of those annoyingly tiny screws, or maybe a nose bridge pad, replaced. Sister Christine did the job in about three minutes, and there was no charge.
“We are big on customer service,” Daté said. “You can’t try out frames on the Internet. You don’t get the service. You don’t get the expertise.”
Many of Optique’s social reviews tell how the Daté sisters are basically facial fashion consultants. “Somebody picks something out and I feel it’s not right for them, the fit, how it looks…I won’t let them buy it.”
Daté’s technique seems to have paid off. “[Customers] are walking advertisements for us,” she said. “If somebody’s wearing ugly glasses….”
She lets that logic hang in the air, if not on my nose. That’s what sisters do. Just ask Rosemary Clooney and Vera-Ellen.
Optique by Cynthia & Christine
8947 Santa Monica Blvd. at Robertson
West Hollywood 90069
Phone: (310) 271-1313