By Bruce Edwards

Rutland Herald

Cassandra Hotaling / Rutland Herald Michael Birajiclian, the optician
at Vermont Optical, speaks about his retirement at his store in
Rutland on Tuesday.

He's come a long way since he began his career a half century ago in
his native Syria.

But after 54 years as an optician, Michael Birajiclian has seen his
last customer and fitted his last pair of glasses at the Vermont
Optical shop at 116 Merchants Row.

Birajiclian was quick to say he wouldn't miss anything about the
business until his wife Sandy gently reminded him about all the
customers he's met over the decades.

"The people, who were very good to me," Birajiclian said. "Rutland
has been very, very good to us and I thank them for it."

Taking a seat at one of the small fitting tables in his spacious and
well lit Merchants Row shop the other day, Birajiclian recounted his
odyssey from Syria to Rutland.

Born in 1934 in Allepo, Syria's second largest city, he graduated
from high school and began what became his life-long career at age 19.

"We didn't have an optical school so I learned on the job," said
Birajiclian, who's of Armenian descent and retains a distinct accent.

In 1962, his employer sent him to the United States to check out the
latest Bausch & Lomb optical equipment.

Once here, he decided to stay.

He eventually wound up employed by the Bausch & Lomb laboratory in
Springfield, Mass., but encountered problems because the job didn't
pay enough to qualify for a visa extension. That's when Birajiclian
said a local optician named Philip Murphy offered him a job at better
pay and in so doing solved his visa dilemma. During his nine years in
Springfield, he met his future wife, Sandy Hewitt from North Pomfret.

The couple, now married, relocated to Vermont to be closer to his
wife's family. The move also meant Birajiclian would be closer to
Montreal where his father's family had immigrated. Birajiclian and his
wife settled on Rutland where he joined a practice with two optical
doctors at the Merchants Row location. He's been there since that
first day in 1971 and in 1978 became the sole owner of Vermont Optical.

Like other professions, Birajiclian said he's seen a number of changes
over the years. When he first arrived in Rutland, he said there were
only a handful of optometrists. Today, with many more optometrists
also selling glasses as part of their practice, he said it's difficult
for an independent optician to stay in business.

"Now you have to have a doctor to survive in the optical business,"
he said.

The arrival of the chain store opticians has hurt business. But
the chains don't always please their customers, Birajiclian said,
so those dissatisfied customers will seek out a local optician.

During their years in Rutland, the Birajiclians raised two sons and
a daughter. The youngest, Michael, is an optician at Central Vermont
Eye Care at 69 Allen St.

Although he closed his shop Friday and is officially retired,
Birajiclian said he'll spend a few hours each week lending a hand
and seeing customers at his son's Allen Street location. That's an
aspect of the job he doesn't want to give up.

"I love people to talk to them and visit with them and try to make
them happy," he said.

"That's one of his greatest joys," his wife, Sandy, added.

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From: Emil Lazarian | Ararat NewsPress