As a kid, Zac Cooper — owner of Coopers Optique — always knew he had to do something with medicine. He remembers wanting to be a vet, a doctor and then psychiatrist. He even worked in a psychiatric ward as a nurse’s assistant for several years.
“Looking at what I do now, I would say [it] feels like a natural fit. I am working in the medical field and also specializing in the fashion side, but most importantly helping people," he said.
Since the eyewear store opened last June, operating under COVID conditions is all they've ever known. While many customers schedule appointments ahead of time, the store also allows walk-ins that feature the same personalized services.
“Aside from physically looking different, I think our approach to eyewear consultations is fun and personal,” said Cooper. Upon arrival, guests are offered a drink and snack, and the first 10 to 15 minutes are spent chatting and getting to know clients.
“We talk about their day-to-day life, the fashion likes and dislikes, their home/work lifestyle and of course vision needs.”
Cooper, who grew up in Nebraska, says there wasn't much room to discover and enjoy his own personal style as an openly gay male in a Midwest state.
“Even in Seattle, there is a little bit of reluctance when people come in,” he said.
When shoppers ask what others might say about their glasses choices (or anything else), Cooper simply replies, “Who cares?”
“When clients come into our gallery, it is a safe place to explore your style and see how far you want to go without judgement," he said. "Our clients feel empowered once they find the pair they love and do not care what others will think of them!”
Cooper’s own style?
“Oh gosh who knows. I do me. Day-to-day you will see me sporting some very loud and colorful pants, sometimes capris with a comfy pair of boat shoes," he said. "Some days I may jazz it up and pull out a floral print button up with some nice boots and a wooden bowtie. I am always wearing what makes me feel good. Same with glasses, I put on what makes me smile.”
Other local artists have praised Cooper for generously helping to support them. His shop features a 12-foot-wall and several spots throughout the gallery on which to display works by a Local Artist of the Month.
“Being a local artist myself, I knew my gallery would be a place for the community as well," he said. "We sell them for the artist, taking no commission," Cooper explained. "We are not trying to make a profit off this; we simply want to provide artists a place to display and sell their art." They also host an art reception for these artists the last Friday of every month.
So far the parties have been virtual, but starting in April, they will become a hybrid event (the first hour via Zoom for attendees outside of Seattle, the last hour done in person).
"Taking time to get to know the artist, their inspiration and techniques followed by some time for attendees to purchase via Zoom, our artists were selling anywhere from 15 to 20 pieces of art each month."
Cooper’s life has certainly come with some unpredictable challenges.
“Two of the biggest, unexpected twists in my life happened within a week of each other,” he said. Five years ago, when he started putting together the idea of Coopers Optique, he and his husband were also exploring adoption. With a set plan laid out, they aimed to open Coopers Optique in 2016.
They were told the adoption match would take three to five years.
“Unexpected twist number one,” he said. “We were matched with a newborn girl on day one of being able to be matched. Unexpected twist number two? A week after adoption, I was diagnosed with end-stage kidney failure.”
Cooper was instantly put onto dialysis. The couple moved back to Nebraska to have help with their newborn while Zac focused on his health. Within six months of dialysis, his body stopped responding, and he was quickly put on the kidney transplant list.
“To our amazement, and by some miracle, my husband ended up being a perfect match and donated a kidney to me within a month! Fast-forward three months later, and we returned to Seattle ready to start back up where we left off.”
When it comes to navigating this past year, Cooper credits his husband Kevin and now-five-year-old daughter Rori for getting him through.
“Opening Coopers Optique during a pandemic in the middle of a neighborhood remodel and large arena remodel...” he said, “We knew there would be some unknowns. There are always challenges being a small business owner, but the reward is so worth it!”
Cooper insists on adding one important note: “I would not be anywhere without my optician Emily; she has been a rock and support for me. Helping provide support with social media, helping clients and being a sounding board to help us grow!”