Ismail Optical: 90 years of correcting visions
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Ismail Optical: 90 years of correcting visions

March 18, 2022

By S. Kenneth Shishir

For 90 years, one optical store in our city has been framing and giving correct sight to Mysureans.

Ismail Optical and Co. on Sayyaji Rao Road, founded by Abubakar Ismail Sait and registered as A. Ismail & Bros on Feb. 16, 1932, was the first store selling optical devices, particularly spectacles with corrective lenses in city.

Speaking about how Ismail Optical Co. came into existence, Sadiq Sait, the present Proprietor and grandson of Abubakar, said that in the 18th century, a group of young entrepreneurs from Gujarat migrated to different parts of the country to try various business ventures and in South India they explored cities like Kochi, Hyderabad, Bangalore, Ooty and Madikeri, etc.

When the erstwhile Maharaja of Mysore learnt about these entrepreneurs who were in Kodagu, he invited them to start their business in Mysore. One of these entrepreneurs, was Sadiq’s great grandfather Ismail Sait, who started a supermarket called ‘Ismail Stores’ in 1878 in Mysore.

The Maharaja had gifted Ismail Sait a building to set up his supermarket. In fact it was so large that the building had 11 doors! Even to this day, one can see a painting depicting Jumboo Savari procession with old Ismail Stores in the background displayed at Mysore Palace, says Sadiq.

Ismail Stores was located near Olympia Talkies, which was earlier known as Shivarampet. The supermarket sold a variety of items including spectacles which was one of its kind in those days. When K.R. Circle was being constructed, the supermarket was demolished and the Maharaja then provided another store nearby.

Ismail Sait’s son Abubakar Ismail Sait took over the supermarket business and then added a new exclusive optical store and registered it as A. Ismail & Bros in 1932. A receipt for goggles sold for Rs. 3 and 8 annas in 1934 is still preserved at the present store.

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While the supermarket closed down, the optical store thrived. In 1971, the optical store was shifted to the present Devaraja Market building and this store was run by Sadiq’s father Gul Mohammed Sait, son of late Abubakar Ismail Sait. The store had already become famous by then for not only selling corrective lenses and frames but also for selling sunglasses to actors and film crew during film shootings.

Sadiq recalls his father selling sunglasses to actors Dr. Rajkumar, Dwarakish, Srinath, Amrish Puri, Jitendra, Anil Kapoor, Jackie Shroff and Prem Chopra. The store had also supplied spectacles to the members of the Mysore royal family during the regime of Krishnaraja Wadiyar and Chamaraja Wadiyar, he added.

Sadiq says, in the early days of the business, glasses and lenses were manufactured in their factory which was discontinued after 2005 as plastic lenses came to the market and the demand for glass lenses came down.

A bill dated 7.3.1934 preserved by Sadiq Sait.

“Earlier there were no eye hospitals and only Ismail Optical was testing eyes. Employees of the Railway Department were being sent to the stores for eye testing. All was well untill the building caught fire in 1977 and the store was gutted. It was later renovated and by that time, many eye testing centres had come up,” Sadiq revealed.

Now, Ismail Optical & Co. has 12 branches across Mysuru City which are managed by Sadiq and his brothers. They have also expanded to Kodagu and have a branch at Gonikoppal.

Over the years, Sadiq says they have managed to constantly increase the choices for their customers. “Carl Zeiss glasses from Germany, Altan frames and Crooks lenses from England are imported. We deal with a variety of frames and lenses from across the globe so our customers have choices. We also have qualified and trained staff to repair these frames,” Sadiq said.

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When asked about the common complaint about buying sunglasses — fakes, Sadiq says it is very difficult for a common man to differentiate and hence it is best to purchase such sunglasses from an authorised store or dealer and added with a smile, “may be like you get a second opinion from a doctor for health, you may need to get a second opinion about the authenticity of your glasses from an authorised dealer like us,” he said.

Ismail Optical still has eye testing and an in-house eye testing clinic. “Our mission is to provide quality vision to Mysureans and we hope to set up an eye hospital soon to help achieve a cataract-free  Mysuru,” says Sadiq.

Innovative – ‘Dial a Spex’

Ismail Optical has also been innovative in their service. In 2016, a unique service called ‘Dial a Spex’ was introduced where a customer could dial for an appointment with an eye specialist and a mobile van, with eye testing equipment and a doctor, would then reach the customer’s doorstep. Once the spectacle is ready, it would be delivered to the patient. This service turned out to be useful during the pandemic.

Awards

The Optical store has won many awards for being the best opticals in Mysuru. In 1996, it won an award for being the Best Optical Store in South India; Best Optical Store in Karnataka Award in 2003 and it bagged the Mysore Excellence Award — Excellent Opticians in Mysore in 2018.

8 COMMENTS ON THIS POST To “Ismail Optical: 90 years of correcting visions”

  1. Bhamy V Shenoy says:

    It is a delight to read about the 90 years’ history of a business of Ismail Optical. Sri. Sishir has done a commendable job in collecting historical data to present an interesting story to readers. Ismail family should be congratulated for serving Mysureans by providing dependable products all these years and wish them all the success for years to come. When most businesses are looking to make short term profit without worrying about consumer needs or satisfaction, Ismail Opticals must have kept long term goals in their vision.

  2. Questo says:

    In Mysore, there has been a mistaken notion that a business which has been long established should be good. Just look at the Raghulal Pharmacists with their entrenched pathetically rude attitude to customers, pricing their prescription drugs much higher than other recently established pharmacists. This Ismail Opticals are no better with similar customer unfriendly well mired attitude- of bygone days. Similar to Raghulal, customers are duped in thinking that because they are long-established, they must be good with quality lenses and frames.
    These Indian -made lenses and frames though expensive do not match the quality of much cheaper equivalents one can pick up in any high street pharmacists in Western countries.
    The Indian tourists who visit the Western countries, to launder their ill-gotten money acquired through a variety of graft-inducing sources, do the first thing after they land is to visit the pharmacists located in large super stores , get their eye tested o usually with no charge as they buy multiple sets of glasses with quality frames , discounted well for the multiple purchase.. The plastic lenses used in these glasses are of very high quality, and the total cost of the sets is often very much less that what the person would have paid in in Ismail Opticals.
    During the pandemic and lockdown, in the Western countries, the often used glasses are for reading-that is for near vision, and they can be purchased on-line, based on the strength of lens one uses, which is known. and these are delivered through the post with no delivery charges. The verifocal lenses are not required for some one working from home during a pandemic lockdown. The ‘diala spex’ is a gimmick, used to fleece patients, which has been the practiceof private hospitals/clinics in Mysuru/India.

  3. Mohan says:

    Congratulations Sait …keep expanding and provide the quality service u aspire..

  4. Shantala says:

    In the days of yore, that was until1970s, , what had been the strengths of Mysuru-relative isolation ,calmness and relatively low degree of pollution, which by the way Mysuru has lost, had been its major weaknesses. Dinosaur businesses like Raghulal for drugs, Ismail Opticals for glasses and Krishnaswamy and Sons for stationary treated their customers like dirt, as Mysuru then had been captive customer area for these 3 businesses, enjoying almost monopoly situation.
    Business such as the 3 above, though old as veterans, it does not mean they are any good.
    Even then, my family used to visit Bengaluru frequently, and contrary to generally held belief from Mysoreans who rarely visited Bengaluru then, you could buy essentials cheaper there than at Mysuru; you could get prescription eye glasses a third cheaper than in Mysuru- including quick eye testing and quality set of lenses and frames ,within a few hours. During our visits to Mumbai, where my uncle worked and lived, I could get a pair of prescription eye glasses, cheaper than at Bengaluru-eye tested and lenses fitted in a quality frame , and dispensed within 2 hours.
    From what I hear from my relatives in this city, although Mysuru is now well connected to Bengaluru, I hear that they prefer to get their essentials such as eye glasses when they drive to Bengaluru, returning loading their car with fresh choice vegetables and fruits, paying a good fraction less.
    The pandemic has slowed this down, but has not eliminated these trips.
    Mysuru has always served less well to its own residents, shops and businesses indulging in Byzantine practices, as they know they have captive customers.
    It is a common knowledge that Mysuru is brazing for massive influx of Keralites, as the rail and road links to Kerala have been improving fast. Whatever one thinks of Keralites, they are very good businessmen, second only to Gujarathis. I understand ,Mysuru has already been surveyed by them-some have already bought properties in the city, about the businesses they want to establish and those they want to take over. Businesses like Ismail Opticals will no longer have a monopolistic run then

  5. Kawakawaffoxgowda says:

    I agree that Raghulal, Ismail Opticals and Krishnaswamy and Sons, enjoying monopoly for decades, treated their customers with disdain, particularly if they are not well off.
    I also believe that the Malayalee businessmen who are beginning to arrive to the city in expectation of the good road links to Kerala ,and the jet liners landing in Mysore airport after expansion, will change the ways businesses are conducted introducing very stiff competition. Then you will see a complete change of attitude to customers, and reduction of costs, as they expand their growing link with Hong Kong , where one could get very good quality spectacles at a substantially reduced prices.

  6. Chamanlal Maneklal Ghia says:

    I a m a businessman from Mumbai, who has business links in Bangalore and Mysore.
    I do not buy their story of Maharaja, but is very likely that Mirza Ismail, the Dewan, who favoured Muslims in his regime,, favoured the Ismails too.
    They have thrived these decades, running a business which is a virtual monopoly in Mysore, as Mysore for a long time was isolated from the rest of the country, with its metre gauge railway line between Bangalore and Mysore, and single narrow road connecting the two cities, which meant that passengers had to change in Bangalore or to travel uncomfortably in the buses and cars from Bangalore,, if they were coming from |Mumbai or Chennai. This isolation for decades gave opportunities for businesses in Mysore to thrive with no competition. You can see this, even today in the attitude of those who deal with customers in this Ismail Opticals.
    The spectacles are priced high—one could get two pairs of spectacles in Mumbai , for the price of a pair of spectacles here. In some opticals in Bangalore too. That includes frame, testing and adjustments.
    Mysore is slowly waking up now, and with the improvement of rail and road links to Bangalore and beyond it, people are taking the opportunity to shop in Bangalore, get medical treatment in Bangalore, and this will not be good news for the Ismail Opticals. The ground has shifted. More people are bound to arrive-I see signs of them from other parts of India, who will establish new nimble businesses, providing competition to those monopoly businesses which hither too enjoyed their uncompetitive status,.

  7. Om prakas says:

    After going through the comments of few, it is absolutely correct that the present Ismail optical has lost the name & fame . I am from Mysore, I am an optometrist by profession worked out of India & at present still working in Bangalore. As I am almost more than 55 years in this field and being an mysorean I know about the optical market in mysore since 1960. There were only few optical stores in mysore 1) Royal optical sayaji rao Road
    2) sharada optical & medical sayaji rao road
    3) Ismail optical sayaji rao road
    4) Shobha optical sayaji rao road which was established in 1962.
    There was an government eye hospital in sayaji rao road. There were two eye specialists in Mysore those days who were very famous
    Dr Sunder Rao & Dr Sherieff. In those days Mr Gul moahamed Ismail sait was running the store in sayaji rao road. But in those days when shobha optical came to existence all the other above said opticians lost their business almost by 50% because the proprietor of shobha optical was a trained optician & technician where he had a big lens manufacturing unit in Akbar Road there was no competitor to this organisation till 1985. Shobha optical was the best for quality & price. Even today many of my friends say that shobha optical was the best there is much more to say about this store but I hope that Ismail optical should fallow the foot steps of Mr Gul mohahmed Ismail sait

  8. Mann Ki Baat! says:

    Only in Mysuru, which has been a cul-de-sac for decades, effectively isolated from even Bengaluru with ancient metre gauge railway line, and rickety road linking the two cities , a business such as Ismail Opticals, expensive with angry attitude to customers-‘take it or leave it attitude’ prevailing for decades, and is even now continuing , after Mysore is reasonably well linked to Bangalore and beyond.
    I cannot see this business lasting for another decade, as Mysore is undergoing massive change s with the influx of outsiders coming to settle and starting new businesses as a result of improved transport and travel situations.
    Mysore needs the opticals located in supermarkets and malls, where customers can walk in, get testing and straight away buy the spectacles with an hour gap for dispensing, as it happens in most Western countries.
    The Mysore airport expansion, will connect the city to medium haul destinations like Singapore and Hong Kong, particularly the latter, which canpost severe challenges to ancient businesses like this Opticals, which thinks, its knows best and customers are always wrong!

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