Next month, Colm Molloy and Jed Dowling of The Opticians Kildare Street are set to pack up their fanciful store and move it to Crow Street.
“I really like the vibe that we’ve achieved here,” said Molloy on a recent Thursday morning. “It has a sense of community to it. It’s very comfortable. It’s a nice place to work, so that’s what we’d like to bring with us.”
If you’re unfamiliar with The Opticians Kildare Street, it’s become something of an institution over the past five years. An opticians’ by day, a venue by night, the space resembles an eccentric designer’s living room.
The new premises on Crow Street will be more modern and polished, says Molloy, but it will have the same eclectic feel. “Hopefully, it will be a busier shop,” he adds.
As for their Kildare Street location, they intend to rent it out as office space during the day and remove the testing room at the back to make way for an open performance space.
Molloy and Dowling never intended to set up a shop, they say. It just kind of happened.
A couple for 16 years now, they were going out before college and wondered what to do with their lives. “We thought, ‘Let’s become opticians’. So that’s what we did,” says Molloy.
At first, they used the space as an office, where they worked as consultants for other opticians. Gradually, though, they evolved a specialty in eye-wear.
They amassed a big collection of vintage glasses over the years, says Molloy, and people began to seek them out. There aren’t many places in Dublin selling vintage frames.
Once the vintage stock began to run low, they brought in unusual glasses that were difficult to get in mainstream opticians. Cat-eye-shaped and round frames. Eye-boggling colours, no neutrals. All perched on a tall, wooden display shelf.
Some styles really suit some people’s face shapes, but are hard to get, explains Molloy. “And people with heads too big or too small struggle to find glasses,” he adds.
Molloy and Dowling cater for all head shapes and sizes.
Mixing It Up
Once they were set up, Molloy and Dowling soon began to dip their toes into other activities.
For a while, they dabbled in bartering with customers. They assembled all kinds of antiques, before a few people spoiled it for everyone.
“Some people were really sound, but what kind of happened a couple of times was people would come in, they wouldn’t agree to barter beforehand and then they’d refuse to pay,” explains Molloy. Often, what they offered wasn’t a fair swap, and so the bartering days came to an end.
Next, the opticians stumbled into event hosting. French Bird, a friend’s band, was launching an EP, but didn’t have much money. They were worried that if they shelled out for a function room, nobody would turn up, explains Molloy.
So Molloy and Dowling offered up the shop. They saw it as exposure for the business and a way to help out a friend.
Soon they were hosting gigs and other BYOB get-togethers regularly. “We never charged for the events,” says Molloy. Most participants were well-behaved, but “the carpet just had to go very quickly,” he adds.
However, after a couple of messy events – one was chaos and at another stuff got stolen – the couple were up until the early hours of the morning cleaning. They decided to cut the events down to one per month.
Despite the ups and downs, they aren’t bitter. In fact, Molloy still manages to sound sympathetic when telling the story of a projectile vomiter.
Now, they only go for quieter, more artistic happenings, though, like exhibitions and poetry nights.
“I would love to be just philanthropic and have a free space for artists . . . It’s kind of a shame that there aren’t more. Most bars even charge you if you want to put on a performance. They’re not paying the artist and if they can sell tickets, then the bar can get a cut of that,” says Molloy.
Dowling is a director of Dublin LGBTQ Pride, so I ask if they’ve ever hosted anything for that here. “There’s 30,000 to 40,000 people at our pride events,” pipes up Dowling from the corner, where he’s working on some spectacles. “They wouldn’t fit in.” He smiles.
“But we had an LGBTQ youth group,” adds Molloy. “They wrote poetry and did a workshop every week for a couple of months. Then, their closing thing was a night of readings.”
At the end of September, the 48 Hour Film Project saw those taking part scrambling to make a film in a single weekend. One of the requirements for this year’s set: an opticians’.
Aidan Ralph, who was taking part, had been to the shop when French Bird kicked off the very first event, and luckily he remembered the venue. With one call, he had an opticians’ to film in.
“They just said, yes, straight away,” he says. “When we went down there, they were so helpful.”
The cast were allowed to use all the equipment and they were briefed in some optician lingo. “It’s a really quirky, cool little opticians’,” adds Ralph.
Next month, the shop will host a project called Cave Paintings, where ten contemporary writers and artists will create pieces of work in response to each other’s creations. They will present their work over five nights.
In December, Molloy will do his annual reading of A Christmas Carol.
“The whole shop is candlelit and there’s mulled wine and gingerbread. It’s really Christmassy,” he says. “I do silly voices. So Scrooge is Ronnie Drew . . . and then Bob Cratchit is Kermit the Frog – obviously.”
The pair haven’t decided whether to host it at its traditional location under Kildare Street or if they will bring it to Crow Street.
Now that their Kildare Street premises will be freed up, there may well be more artistic events. “If it’s something interesting,” says Dowling.