Creating a rare spectacle

By HermineBloom

Ladies wearing cat-eye shaped eyeglasses and men wearing large, aviator-style, wire-rimmed frames are usually pictured in dusty, sepia-colored photographs. Some odd years later, trend-conscious young people donning the same throwback style can be found roaming Chicago’s city streets thanks to Coyote DeGroot, who isn’t convinced that vintage frames have become antiquated and irrelevant just yet.

DeGroot founded Labrabbit Optics six months ago, which is a one-man business fully devoted to independently acquiring lenses and selling old-stock frames for an affordable price in the most intimate of settings—DeGroot’s Wicker Park fourth-floor apartment at 2152 W. Division St.

After moving back to his parents’ house, DeGroot sought employment at an optical dispensary called Eyemart Express, which he admits wasn’t producing quality work at the time. Later, he began working at an optical lab and has worked there full-time for the past nine years. Along the way, DeGroot got advanced certification from the American Board of Optometrists, as well as the National Contact Lens Examiners.

He has maintained the opinion that the frames at Lenscrafters or Pearle Vision aren’t quite diverse enough.

“They carry only a thousand different styles of frames, but [it’s] a thousand small rectangles,” DeGroot said. “They’re essentially the same shape. I’d rather have something sort of ghetto-fabulous, [or with] gemstones.”

In an effort to break the monotony of working for a rigid industry and selling conventional frames, DeGroot began scouring the city for unique-looking frames to sell on his own accord. Originally, he assumed there might be a secret thrift store with a gold mine stock of vintage frames, he said. Realistically, though, for the past six months he’s collected frames through friends, optical industry connections, out-of-business optometrists and the occasional vintage shop.

Admittedly, DeGroot is instantly attracted to large frames, bright colors, odd patterns and stuff that looks a little sci-fi. In other words, he looks for “a provocative style that somebody’s going to notice instantly,” he said.

As far as the technical equipment used to prepare and cut the lenses, DeGroot purchased 20-year-old machinery in an alleyway in Milwaukee, Wis. prior to launching his business.

“The guy was really happy to get rid of it and I was really happy to get it,” DeGroot said.

Labrabbit Optics acts as an independent optical dispensary. Customers will either bring their frames or purchase frames, order lenses and DeGroot will then use a machine to cut and measure the lenses to match the frames, he said.

Because Labrabbit is an independently- run business, DeGroot chooses to price his frames from $40-$100 and his high-end, anti-reflective coating lenses at about $75.

His store is open two days a week and he takes on about six or seven jobs per week from his steadily expanding customer base, which has greatly evolved over the past six months.

“Most people don’t go shopping for eyeglasses on a casual basis,” DeGroot said. “It’s something that they really want and they go out of their way to get it, or they really need because they broke their last pair of glasses.”

Until recently, DeGroot sold to personal friends and friends of friends within the cycling community. Simon Lach, a 25-year-old structural engineer and friend, was DeGroot’s first customer and has since purchased three different, unconventional-looking frames from Labrabbit Optics. His latest pair looks like something a German architect would have worn in the 1980s, Lach said.

In its early stages, word of mouth fueled Labrabbit, though DeGroot finally listed his business on Yelp and is beginning to host trunk shows in the Wicker Park community, such as his upcoming show at Kokorokoko, a resale vintage shop located at 1112 N. Ashland Ave., on Nov. 19.

“It didn’t take very much for a lot of people to start hearing about it and know what was going on,” Lach said. “Just from the very start [and] from the number of people that he knows, he had a customer base.”

DeGroot said he struggles to throw parties at his apartment without the social gathering turning into a group of people trying on the glasses that are displayed in his home.

“Typically when someone gets frames from me, there are a lot compliments that ensue,” DeGroot said.

Kristin Lueke, program coordinator at the University of Chicago and friend to DeGroot, is now a proud owner of clear, plastic frames, which she said are “huge and kind of overwhelming in the greatest way possible.”

“His feedback was really helpful about how the frames look, how they should sit on the face, how comfortable they should be,” Lueke said.

“It was a really great mix of letting the customer independently browse and offering really helpful advice.”

Though DeGroot feels as though it might be conceivable to get a proper storefront at some point, he’s content working the way he is now.

Labrabbit Optics will host a trunk show at Kokorokoko, 1112 N. Ashland Ave., on Nov. 19. Visit for additional information.