Location has served generations
When the Eagan Eye Clinic first opened its doors 50 years ago, the city around it looked quite a bit different.
The Cedar Avenue bridge was two lanes and made of wood, and few Twin Cities residents ventured south of the Minnesota River.
“It was basically the country,” said Dennis Ottenstroer, one of the clinic’s former owners and optometrists.
After doing market research, founding optometrist Alan Paymar saw a need for eye care in what would become a bustling south metro.
“There really wasn’t anything else on this side of the river except the Cedarvale Shopping Center and the bank,” Paymar said.
The business started in the Valley National Bank before moving into Cedarvale Professional buildings, which looked like rustic, cedar cabins complete with wooden decks.
The eye clinic moved to its current location at 3930 Cedar Grove Parkway when the city was looking to develop the Cedarvale area in 2006.
The owners have seen the Cedarvale area become Eagan’s downtown, before going through a lengthy transformation to what it is today.
“The recession hit it hard,” current owner and optometrist Ben Stout said. “It kept development at a slow pace.”
The current business overlooks Twin Cities Premium Outlets and several developments are sprouting up nearby.
It’s seen three different owners in Paymar, Ottenstroer and Stout.
They all worked together at one point for a few years. They all said it’s like one big happy family.
“My goal was to make it feel like a family,” Paymar said. “If you had a problem, we would try to fix it. I used to tell the staff, ‘I don’t pay your salary, your patients pay your salary.’ ”
The clinic has seen competitors come in the form of big box stores and online retailers, but they feel being a small business has its advantages in keeping patients coming back.
“Everyone here knows your name,” said clinic administrator Kris Haffner.
Stout said the market has been trending toward smaller, local businesses.
“People aren’t just a number here,” Paymar said. “Kris knows everyone. She knows their family.”
They’ve seen generations come through their doors. They’ve looked deep into the eyes of mayors and city council members.
Paymar said he was called to testify on the conditions a police chief’s eyes, who came upon some bank robbers.
“Their attorney said if (the police chief) just came from an appointment, how could he see?” Paymar said. “Weren’t his eyes dilated? I told them he just needed reading glasses. He could see just fine.”
Ottenstroer said there’s something about helping a young child put on glasses and allowing them to see the world clearly for the first time.
“They would say they didn’t realize they could actually see leaves on the trees from a distance,” Ottenstroer said.
While they’ve helped countless patients see more clearly, they’ve also helped preserve their livelihood.
Paymar said one of his patients had several hemorrhages in his eyes, and the patient admitted to skipping diabetes medication.
“I told him you’re going to the hospital, this examination is over,” Paymar said. “He was going to go blind. That was one of my first patients.”
Much has changed in the field of eye care in the last 50 years.
“They’ve made so many changes in instrumentation, I don’t know if I could examine an eye after 11 years in retirement,” Paymar said.
The care has moved beyond eyes.
“Looking into people’s eyes is a window into overall health,” Stout said. “Going to the eye doctor has become a tool for whole body health care.”
Optometrists now scan for glaucoma, diabetes, high blood pressure and even brain tumors.
“The back of the eye is the extension of the brain,” Paymar said.
Stout said now the they’re able to image the inside of an eye, measure a prescription and look at the retina with 3-D modeling all through machines.
“In the past you would dilate the eye and just look, now we have so many instruments,” Stout said. “You’re reading data more than anything,”
Appointments are shorter now. A regular visit used to take 45 minutes to an hour. Now they’re more efficient thanks to the technology upgrades.
“We’re down to a half hour with our assessments,” Stout said.
The business model has been successful enough that Stout purchased another office in Savage four years ago.
“We brought what was working here to Savage,” Stout said. “It’s working great.”
As for the next 50 years for the Eagan Eye Clinic?
Haffner said they may be outgrowing their current location.
They’d like to see several more generations walk through their doors.
But, who knows what the optometrists will have to work with in a few years.
“(The field is) always changing,” Stout said. “Just 10 years ago we couldn’t image the eye like we can now. It’s almost like you’re standing inside the eye. We’re able to measure people’s nutrition. Genetic testing. It’s just amazing.”