Downtown London - News

December 2018

  • Old North Optometry dares to be different

    December 13, 2018

    Old North Optometry dares to be different


    By Sean Meyer


    Born and raised in London, Josephine Pepe left the Forest City — travelling first to Waterloo and then Boston — to learn her optometry skills, but her intention all along was to return home and eventually launch her own business.


    That intention paid off as the 1998 graduate of the New England College of Optometry returned to London and started practicing in January 1999. After several years working for someone else, she made the move to launch Old North Optometry in February 2014.


    The shop, located at 783 Richmond St., personified her own vision of style.


    “I wanted to be an owner. I wanted to do things a little differently, to more represent me and my style,” Josephine said. “For me, I’ve always had a passion for the boutique frame lines. I always thought that was interesting. Our hashtag is ‘dare to be different.’ People often choose frames that are safe, but you can pick something that has a little more character and still match the clothes you wear.”


    Josephine could have opened her office anywhere, but she knew it had to meet certain criteria.


    For one thing, a big fan of London’s Old North neighbourhood, she knew it was where she wanted to set up shop. Although she looked at different spaces, she recalls crying when her top choice fell through. 


    However, then a cousin offered up a suggestion for “that place over at Richmond and Sydenham.” Josephine admits she had no idea what her cousin was talking about.


    It turns out that particular building — which she would eventually purchase at the end of August 2012 — had quite the story to tell.


    Although it had most recently been a lawyer’s office, it turns out the former owners had converted it from a church. 


    The building actually started off as the Trinity Lutheran Church in 1924. In 1951, the Faith Tabernacle Church purchased it, adding an expansion to the building two years later.


    Once Josephine took possession, she decided to “take it back to the studs,” unveiling the old wooden beams and archways. After they “gutted it pretty much,” and added new plumbing, electrical, HVAC, it would be ready for customers.


    “I was like, wow. It was just so amazing. We tried to keep as many arches as we could. It just has so much character,” Josephine said. “Things have been OK; there have been challenges. Now we’re starting to pick up; I’m booking six weeks ahead, we’re looking at hiring an associate. Things are looking good and the practice is starting to grow.”


    While a growing practice would be enough to keep anyone busy, Josephine has become a strong community partner as well, supporting Pride London, Handbags for Hospice, her friend Mario Vella’s annual Victory Against ALS golf tournament and, most recently, joining the campaign cabinet for United Way Elgin Middlesex.


    “I enjoy it. I love doing something for the community, meeting so many great people . . . it’s quite wonderful,” she said. “I try to keep life as balanced as I can. The first few years have been challenging to do that for sure.”


    A fan of running (she’s working her way back from an injury), movies (at Hyland Cinema), live theatre (at the Grand Theatre) Josephine has embraced her place in the downtown because she feels it provides her with so many advantages.


    One of the biggest, she says with a laugh, is the shopping opportunities. 


    “I love downtown London and I always think people don’t know what they are missing out on. It’s a nice place to go shopping,” she said. “We all have our challenges with downtown, but I love it, I love being close to it; I wouldn’t trade it for the world.”


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