‘Mad Scientist’ of glasses still helping generations see clearly

By Judy Babb

Malerie Tribble served as the face of Tom Barrett Optical in Old Town in the Village. Her father Rob Tribble, the current owner, was off for the day. The 25-year-old is third generation family in the store and while she is full of youth and energy, she’s the first to say in many ways it’s like working in the ’80s. Her grandfather Tom Barrett opened the store 40 years ago. The art, calendars and high-end customer service all speak to that. Her father — Barrett’s step-son Rob — continues the family business.

Malerie Tribble’s grandfather, Tom Barrett, opened the store 40 years ago.
Photos by Judy Babb

Malerie doesn’t mean working in the ‘80s in a bad way. She is a certified optician as are the others who work there. That may not seem like a big deal but having one in Texas is. Texas is one of the few states where a certificate isn’t required.

Shawnna Nix has worked at the store for 15 years. She heard Valerie, Tom Barrett’s wife, tell people who had 10 years’ experience at Pearl Vision but no certificate that, “They needed to go somewhere else to get their feet wet.” That’s partly because the Barrett store believes in education and because their philosophy is different than most other optical places. They truly believe in customer service and helping the customer find just the right glasses. No one makes commission, so the desire to help is sincere.

In the lab is Tracey Clinton, another long-time employee. She’s the one who grinds the lenses and fits them in the glasses. She’s an artist in doing so. She also can make magic out of a mess.

“She does the most amazing repairs,” Nix said. “She will put you back together.”

Rob Tribble and Clinton have kept up with the industry in that the owner believes in staying on the cutting edge and making sure they are doing the best for their customers. They also added goggles for S.C.U.B.A. divers and sports athletic glasses.

All three of the women exude excitement about the store and each brings a skill the others admire.

Nix remembered another thing Valerie said. “I remember her saying ‘you wear our reputation out the door.’ That’s always stuck with me. Every time I look at a client, I literally think that.”

Nix’s skill is working with customers when they come in. She has a quick eye for what would look good on a person and pays attention to their sense of style. She pays attention to what they say. There’s no pressure.

Malerie is an expert in fixing antique glasses. Sometimes a customer will come in with a pair that is bent, broken and rusty. Malerie makes them beautiful and useful again.

Malerie Tribble and Shawnna Nix show off Tom’s many certifications.

Tom Barrett Optical is different in a lot of ways. For one, they don’t take insurance. While some people are put off by that, the three women see it as a positive. A lot of time, knowing what that insurance dollar amount in a typical optical store means the showroom salesperson doesn’t work as hard to make sure customers looks their best.

“Often people think we would lie to them and tell them they look good in a frame so they just buy it,” Clinton said. “We’d rather them not buy it if it doesn’t look great.”

Nix agreed. “It doesn’t represent us well if we just put you in something. We’ll order frames for you. If you like something but there’s another color that we don’t have, we’ll order it.”

They have examples of how far their customer service will go.

They held a Tom Ford trunk show for one person. Really. The representative came in with the entire line to show to one man. The man did buy. So did three other customers who were in the store at the same time.

“The corporate monsters won’t do that,” Nix said. “It eats into their overhead. ‘We sell what we already paid for’ is their philosophy. We won’t do that.

“We want you to have the best glasses and if it’s not in our inventory, we will find it,” Nix said. They also warranty their glasses.

A lot has changed in the 40 years that the company has existed. When the store opened, Tom had only three lens choices, one material and three styles. “He was the mad scientist of glasses,” Nix said.

Valerie and Tom Barrett.

Much has changed both in quality of the lenses and with the number of lines and frames available. But another aspect is the work that the store is willing to do for its customers.

“We do everything from simple prescriptions to all of the complicated prescriptions that other people can’t pull off,” Clinton said.

A lot has changed in customers as well. Melerie laughed that they had gotten older, but in reality, the business has become generational. Now it’s from grandparents to great-grandchildren that are coming in.

Nix laughingly said that sometimes people cheat on them. She said 95 percent of them come back. Some would never stray.

That includes John Tindall. Tindall found Tom when he had an office downtown and has never gone to another optical store. He compared his loyalty to that expressed in the Sewell car commercial.

“No matter what kind of glasses I get, it will always be from Tom,” he said. “He is an absolute genius in adjusting glasses. And he’s taught it to everyone who works there.”