Every day, Felix Shrayber goes to his business at 21st and Capp streets, Payless Optical, and sits behind the counter, waiting for customers looking to buy new glasses or get their current pair repaired.
Nowadays, only one or two people come in every day.
“Business is pretty much down to zero,” Shrayber said in a resigned monotone.
Shrayber, who works alone, passes the time watching movies, surfing the web and checking emails.
“This is the only thing that saves me, otherwise I’d go nuts,” Shrayber said, gesturing to his laptop.
Even before the pandemic, business was pretty slow, he said. But things weren’t always this way for him.
Shrayber’s induction into the eyeglass business was a matter of legacy. Shrayber’s father was also an optician and got him his first job as a young man.
“It interested me, because I like to work with my hands, and this is precision work with small pieces,” Shrayber said, “and I was good at it.”
In 1986, Shrayber started his own business at 2527 Mission St., and hired three employees to help out. Things were pretty smooth for a while. The store had lots of customers, and Shrayber happily spent his days tinkering with tiny tools and making glasses.
But Shrayber’s shop was in an older building, and when the owner chose to demolish it, Shrayber moved in 2006 from the visibility of Mission Street to his current location. The recession that followed two years later took more out of his business, and Shrayber let all three employees go.
He invested in marketing, but that failed to pay off. Online shopping has been his biggest competitor. He still fails to understand why and how.
“What if they send out a pair and the pair doesn’t fit? Do the people just ship them back?” Shrayber wondered out loud.
“This is the only thing I know how to do,” Shrayber said, “ I wouldn’t know how to do anything else.”