Harvey & Lewis Opticians opened its doors on February 8th 1890. The company founders – Foster Harvey and Robert H. Lewis were clerks in the haberdashery business (men’s clothing) at the time. Although it was born in the middle of a severe recession, the company was quickly a success and expanded to include stores in New Haven and Springfield given that cities were the major shopping destination of the day.
Throughout the teens and 20’s Harvey & Lewis continued to expand, moving their Hartford operation to Main Street across from the Sage Allen building. The narrow store front was enhanced with a vertical sign made of a giant eyeglass frame and the company name climbing the side of the building.
By 1929, the company had six stores in Hartford, New Britain, New Haven, Bridgeport, Springfield and Worcester. The two businessmen commissioned a building to be erected on the corner of State and Main Streets. The site was in the heart of downtown Hartford across from the Old State House where State House Square currently exists. Seven stories tall, it was one of the earliest Art Deco design buildings in the nation. On the second level, overlooking the crowds of pedestrians that were an ever-present fixture at the time, the building had four whimsical gargoyles each with a product sold at the store – binoculars, sunglasses, a camera and a broken pair of glasses.
Unfortunately, Robert Lewis died during the construction of the building. He was succeeded by his son Richard Lewis as President.
The company had been split with the Lewis family taking the Hartford and New Britain stores and Mr. Harvey taking the outlying locations. The heirs of Mr. Harvey chose not to follow him in the business and those stores were sold off to the existing managers and eventually closed (although the New Haven store was still in existence into the 1980s). Meanwhile the Lewis family continues to this day to own and operate the company from its Hartford headquarters on Asylum Street.
In the 1940s, a branch location was added in Hartford Hospital to be closer to referring ophthalmologists. By the 1950s the Downtown Hartford location was relocated to Pearl Street. In 1956, Norman Rockwell selected it as the setting for his painting “New Glasses” which appeared on the cover of the Saturday Evening Post. Mr. Rockwell sent Richard Lewis a letter thanking him and saying “I made unflattering changes in your interior design and unflattering changes in Mr. Berger’s exterior and you both did not scream vengeance.” The boy in the picture was Steven Nesko, now of Newington, who remains a Harvey & Lewis customer to this day.
The 1960’s saw expansion in the Greater Hartford area under the management of Richard Lewis, Jr. who succeeded in turn his father. The Hartford store was moved to its present location on Asylum Street and a West Hartford branch was added at Bishop’s Corner.
Stuart Lewis, having graduated college and served in the Air Force, joined the firm permanently in 1962. By 1975 he began his term as president. He oversaw expansion into Bristol and Glastonbury and several relocations of existing operations. This period saw numerous technological changes which he successfully adapted to including the introduction of soft contact lenses, the transition to plastic prescription lenses and the move to progressive or “invisible bifocal” lenses.
The fourth generation of Lewis’s include James Lewis, president, William Wood and Jeanne Lewis. All began their careers in the 1980s and are still very active in day-to-day operations. Recent expansions include new locations in UConn Health Center in Farmington, the Shoppes at Farmington Valley in Canton and the merger of Enfield Opticians in Enfield.