‘Optician to the stars’ has no plans to retire as he celebrates 50 years in the business
An optician who has served and styled some of Liverpool’s most famous eyes is celebrating 50 years at his city centre practice.
Ian Silverberg first began working in the optical business as soon as he became a teenager, in April 1972, when his father owned five Silverberg Opticians practices across Liverpool.
Still working to this day as he turns 63, Ian has maintained Silverberg Opticians’ reputation as one of the most respected practices in the city from its current location on Whitechapel, near the Met Quarter.
The journey into optics for Ian first began as soon as he turned 13, when his father Harold, who established the business in 1957, told him he would start working in the family business on Saturdays.
Ian said: “The deal was I would work for him on a Saturday, but then I could go on the Liverpool match in the afternoon.
“We had two season tickets and on away games we would go and watch the reserves, so there was a match every week. I really enjoyed it.”
That link with the Reds would continue, as Ian served several of the first team of the 1980s and 1990s, and his parents were even invited to Kevin Keegan’s wedding, as the Liverpool legend’s wife Jean used to work at the practices in the 1970s.
Ian said: “John Barnes was always in and out, so he brought the rest of the team with him because he was the captain. Many of that team, that still live locally, come in for their eye exams to this day.”
Pride of place in the practice is Ian’s VIP photo wall, which displays some more of the most famous faces to walk through Silverberg’s doors over the years, including Elvis Costello, Kim Cattrall and Samuel L. Jackson.
But his core patients have always been his focus throughout his 50 years at the business: “Some of my patients I see now were coming since they were 12, and now they’re bringing in their kids who are 15 and 16. It makes me feel very old,” Ian said.
“I think they keep coming back because they feel like a part of the practice. When they come in, we chat to them, have a coffee and a contact lens check-up. We talk about their families, our families; they’re definitely more like friends.”
The challenges of being an independent in a city centre are clear, but he says his specialisms are what differentiates him from the rest, from his contact lens expertise in Orthokeratology, gas permeable lenses and, more recently, myopia management.
Ian said: “It’s always very gratifying when you get patients coming in from recommendations from other opticians. The other day we had one from one of the multiples who looked at the patient and said, ‘We don’t fit anything like that, go to Silverberg and they’ll do it there.’
“I take everything very personally; it’s probably why I work harder at it because it’s my name above the door.”
The past two years, according to Ian, have been the ‘strangest’ of his 50 years.
Opticians had to close their doors for the first few months of the pandemic, but Ian still provided care for those who needed it, keeping in touch with patients on the phone and even hand delivering contact lenses and specs to the doors of his patients across the area.
He said: “Whenever an order came in, I would get my rucksack on and walk around South Liverpool delivering to patients. It got me exercising and it was nice weather as well, so I quite enjoyed knocking on their door, leaving the specs on their doorstep and waving to them as they came out.
“I think we got a lot of brownie points for that because they were really impressed that ‘the boss’ was delivering their contact lenses.”
Silverberg also donated 100 spare PPE visors, which had been reserved for the practice’s emergency appointments, to Arrowe Park and Royal Liverpool University Hospital, along with £40 vouchers to NHS staff in April 2020.
But despite the challenges of the past two years, in addition to the other 48, Ian has no plans to retire, according to his business partner and ‘fourth son’ Colin Dorricott, who joined the practice 11 years ago as an optical assistant and is now Ian’s co-director.
Colin said: “He’ll be here for as long as he can because he does have a genuine enjoyment for it, it’s just as much as a hobby for him as it is a job.
“He may be in his 60s but his passion is still there, he’s in every morning at 7 o’clock, and by midday he’ll tell you that he’s done his 10,000 steps, marching about doing everything.
“He’s still passionate about eyewear, loves looking at different styles and he’s like a little kid for it.”
According to Colin, Ian’s relationship with his clients is what has established his reputation, including having tea and cake with some patients during their consultations.
Colin added: “He has built a lot of relationships over time, he has been to lots of weddings, birthdays and funerals of patients, because he has just become friends with them over time. That is the type of personality and man he is.”
For 38 of Ian’s 50 years at Silverberg he has worked alongside his other business partner and wife Martine.
He said: “She has pushed me to make some very important decisions. We would not be where are now without her fantastic support.”
That family atmosphere means, as he passes his half century in optics, Ian’s passion for work has not diminished: “I’ve always loved it, and I still looking forward to coming in every day. I enjoy the fact that I can have a chat to everybody,” Ian said.
“Even the tougher moments, I’ve always enjoyed those challenges, whether that be the pandemic or even just at Christmas times on the high street.
“But I wouldn’t move anywhere else, I love it here. Liverpool’s the greatest city in the world. Colin’s getting more and more involved, but I’ll still be here. That’s the future of the practice and it’s going to keep going from strength to strength.”
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