Mina Chen, OD, was enjoying a date night stroll down the streets of Petaluma with her husband, Ian, when she unexpectedly fell in love with the small California city. With its walkable distances and exposed brick wall buildings, the city reminded her of the days when she attended the State University of New York College of Optometry. “I fell in love at first sight, and the area happened to have several retiring optometrists, so it was the perfect opportunity to scout for my own private practice,” she says.
After her graduation in 2019, Dr. Chen worked at a Warby Parker location in New York, which was a good first experience but not the role she wanted long-term. “It was more focused on optical than medical, so I felt that I wasn’t practicing to the full scope of my ability,” she says. Wanting to specialize in myopia management, especially in ortho-k and MiSight® lenses, Petaluma was perfect because there were not any pediatric optometrists in the area. After weighing her decisions, she started to work toward the grand opening of Bright Eyes Optometry. “If I’m going to do it, I should do it early on,” she says.
The first part was easy. She found a location downtown in November 2020 and signed the lease in January 2021. But, she ran into some bumps during the construction process. “It took us about six months to receive a permit and then an additional five months for construction to be completed, in part due to the COVID-19 delay,” she says. The waiting game was not easy, because she had to continue paying rent on an office that she could not use.
FINDING THE PERFECT PARTNER
While she was waiting for the permits, Dr. Chen was introduced to a design team Karina K Studios. It was great news in the middle of a long wait. “The team members are wonderful. They understood exactly what I wanted while keeping a reasonable budget,” she says. Although Karina K Studios is in Illinois – a two-hour time difference – the doctor and designers displayed great teamwork. “The time difference wasn’t a problem. We constantly communicated through phone calls, and Karina perfectly captured the design theme I was aiming for,” she says.
A SERENE PLACE
Dr. Chen wanted her office to be a location where patients can chat and relax rather than feel as if they were in a doctor’s office. She was going for the vibe of a coffee shop or Muji, the Japanese store that offers stationery, household items and apparel. She compiled a photo board mainly of images from Muji, which is known for its light and airy atmosphere with a clean, minimal color palette.
The 1,400-square-foot practice boasts two exam lanes, a pretesting room, a contact lens room, a laboratory to cut lenses and a break room.
In the main room, one large wall reveals the building’s red brick walls – the distinct characteristic of Petaluma. It provides a dramatic contrast for the clear frame displays and black-lined oval mirror hanging on the wall. On the opposite side, frames are displayed on top of hanging wooden boards that have lighting underneath them. “Most of the furniture was purchased from Ikea, which helped me save costs while achieving the clean, minimal look,” she says. Grayish-silver lounge chairs and a rug balance the brightness from the white wallpaper and lighting.
Similar to a cafe, the practice serves coffee, water and little snacks for the patients to sip and munch on while waiting for their appointment.
UNIQUE EYEWEAR SELECTIONS
Most of the frames are made by independent companies that use locally sourced and eco-friendly materials. “I find that my patients and the Petaluma community prefer purchasing independent, unique eyewear as opposed to mainstream brands. I want to provide a diverse retail experience, so it’s a niche I’m hoping to fill,” she says.
After the practice’s grand opening in late November, Dr. Chen is trying to get used to the balance between being an optometrist and an owner at the same time. “It’s difficult because I never had any experience training staff and they don’t teach you business skills in optometry school, but I’m slowly getting the hang of it. The journey is hard but rewarding,” she says.
Dr. Chen hopes to fill the absence of a focus on myopia management and become a hot spot where people of all ages can visit and receive personalized vision care.