Tina Arroyo, founder of the Spectacle Society came to optics through an interesting route. The 45-year-old Corktown resident set up her high-end eyewear boutique in December 2020, at the height of the coronavirus pandemic. Arroyo, born in Queens, NY, and raised on Long Island, found her way to the field through photography. Arroyo, a Bachelor of Fine Arts in Photography and certified optician, has worked to open her eye care business for more than a decade.
She started working in the field in 2007 and made stops in Denver and Portland before opening her business at 1512 Bagley St. in Detroit. Arroyo spoke to Crain about his winding career path and the future of his business.
Your degree is in fine art photography. Tell me how and why you became an optician.
Photography was my joy, my creative outlet, and that’s what introduced me to optics. I was captivated by how the camera was designed to mimic the human eye and intrigued by the science behind the view. The more I learned, the more excited I became. I ended up as an ophthalmology technician, working closely with ophthalmologists on a medical level. When I discovered optics, it was a real moment of enlightenment! It brought together my love of optics, my appreciation for fashion and design, and my favorite part of being a photographer: helping people see the beauty in their uniqueness. My path was clear and I never looked back.
How was the Spectacle Society born?
It was over a decade in the making. Have you ever worked for a job and thought, “If I had my own place, I’d do it like this?” Well, I’ve spent years working as a technician, certified optician, optical trainer, and manager helping other optics grow and thrive. Over the years, I started compiling a list of things I would do when I owned my own store. I dreamed about it at night and thought about it every day. Spectacle Society is the realization of this dream. The space has been intentionally designed to be accessible to everyone regardless of age, size, ability, skin color and gender representation. From store layout, to select frames, to our branding, I designed Spectacle Society for the diverse community that is Detroit.
Why Corktown for your business?
I was drawn to Corktown because of the strong community vibe it has. It’s a part of town, a few blocks from the skyscrapers, but it feels like a neighborhood. There are lots of small businesses, community events and people greeting each other as they walk down the street. So many optics these days are impersonal. I wanted Spectacle Society to be rooted in a neighborhood where the focus could be on connecting with our customers and getting to know them, so they could have personal opticians. It’s an old-school concept that I really like. Having a professional at your disposal who uses their expertise and knowledge of your history to guide you year after year is transformative. Corktown felt like the perfect place to bring this to life.
Do most of your clientele come from Corktown and southwest Detroit?
In fact, our customers come from all over Metro Detroit. We also have people who come from the suburbs and neighboring states. We have a virtual fitting option designed for people who find it difficult to see us in person, but it gives us access to customers across the country.
Opening during the pandemic, was it difficult to find customers at first?
I’m not going to lie, it was slow at first. As a business opening in the middle of a global pandemic while people were still in isolation, it was difficult to get people in. There were very few in-person events and fewer people back then. Not ideal for a new venture, but I wasn’t going to let that put me off.
How do you weave your passion for art, fashion and photography into an optical company?
As a creative individual, I’ve always seen the world a little differently – noticing the beauty of uniqueness. I enjoy people watching and admiring the way other people express themselves through their clothes, accessories and hairstyles. Early in my life as an optician, something clicked: glasses are a form of self-expression and frames are wearable works of art. I therefore approach the selection of glasses from a more than a medical point of view. I get to know my clients. What is their authentic style? How do they want to be perceived? What aspects of their personality do they want to project out into the world? From there, I curate a custom selection that considers fashion, fit, proportion, optics and expression. When my clients pick up their new glasses, I like to offer a mini photoshoot to show them how fantastic they look and celebrate their individuality. The art is in every aspect of what I do.
How confidence-boosting can the right pair of glasses be?
Wearing expressive glasses can be transformative. Most importantly, you have to like the way you look, see and feel in your glasses. When you choose eyewear that expresses your individuality, you feel your best. Put on your glasses, look at yourself in the mirror and say “Yes! I Look Good” gives you a boost of confidence to start your day. When you feel good, it shows in your face and the way you carry yourself, and people notice. At least once a day I hear a customer or two talk about how many compliments they get on their glasses. These compliments are another confidence booster. Think about how you feel when you put on an outfit you like. Where the color is perfect on you, the fit is perfect and everyone notices. Now imagine having that feeling every day because your glasses create the same effect.
You ask customers to tag Spectacle Society in social media posts. How has this added to your business?
I like to emphasize the “social” in social media. Spectacle Society is about community and relationships. At the start of the pandemic, we were all looking for ways to connect with each other when we couldn’t be physically together. Everyone was at home, connected to their laptops, tablets and smartphones. So social media was a way to showcase Spectacle Society and give people a chance to get to know us. There is a “society” of show-goers that grows organically. There are often people on Facebook complimenting our customers on their new glasses when we post our customer’s photo every week. It’s like a little love party. I’ve even had new customers come to tell me that they’ve been watching our reels on Instagram for months and can’t wait to come and find their favorite pair of glasses.
Only about 16% of opticians in the United States identify as Hispanic or Latino. How does it feel to be outside of this select group?
To be a woman, to be a Latina, to be a great person, to be an entrepreneur – it’s all intimately tied to who I am. Have I been prejudiced along the way? Absolutely. I can’t always attribute it to being a Latina. I will say that there is one question I hear most often, especially when someone sees “Arroyo” on my business card. “Who really owns this store?” Upon learning that they are speaking with the owner, I am usually greeted with a shocked expression.
New in preparation for Spectacle Society?
We are in the process of selecting the top three organizations vying for our 2022 Community Investment Fund. At Spectacle Society, we are committed to investing in our community and giving back to Detroit every year. Five percent of annual sales (numbers were not disclosed) will be donated to a local Detroit nonprofit chosen by our community. Next month, Detroit will learn all about these organizations and vote on where the donated funds go. We can’t wait to see who the community chooses this year.
To learn more about Crain’s conversations, visit crainsdetroit.com/theconversation.