Running a successful business for five years is an accomplishment. Keeping a brand going for five generations—that’s some kind of miracle. The eyewear company Moscot takes the feat one notch higher as a family-owned operation that never sold out to a global behemoth. More than a century after its founding, Moscot remains true to its namesake, Hyman Moscot, who started selling glasses from a pushcart on Manhattan’s Lower East Side in 1899.
I’ve been seeing the Moscot name since my 20s in New York City. Now Moscot helps me see better with stylish frames, like the Gelt, crafted of Italian acetate and diamond rivets, and designed by Zack Moscot, a fifth-generation bearer of the Moscot name. The company is a favorite, too, among the famously nearsighted: Paul Rudd, Oscar Isaac, Al Pacino, Rachel Maddow, Robert Downey, Jr.—they’ve all been spotted in Moscots.
What I love about Moscot is the look but also the quality of the product and the overall customer experience. There’s a Yiddish word for that feeling that doesn’t quite translate but it’s how I regard all things Moscot. They’re like mishpucha to me—they feel like family. Even the product names sound like something my cousins or uncles might have dreamed up: the Klutz, the Nebb, the Shonda, the Boychik, the Hamish, the Tuchus. The Tuchus!
I simply had to check in with these lantzmen to see, a.) if maybe we have a great-great aunt in common somewhere, and b.) how it’s going for the Moscots. After all, these haven’t exactly been the easiest few years for retail, what with a bubonic plaque giving everybody shpilkes in the genechtagazoink. Zack, who is chief design officer, and his dad, Harvey, the current CEO and a doctor of optometry (oy, such naches!), were kind enough to Zoom with me recently and answer questions about growing up Moscot.
I feel like I know you guys. Have we ever met before? Are we related?
Harvey Moscot: It’s funny. A lot of people have that feeling, although it can get confusing sometimes. I was examining eyes until five years ago, and I would say, ‘I’m Dr. Moscot,’ and people would say, ‘Oh, I thought you were dead.’
Zack Moscot: Family is so much of what we are and represent as a brand. When you’re in a generational business, it becomes the story. It’s part of our authenticity.
Harvey Moscot: You know, my great-grandfather was an optician from the old country. My grandfather was one of the first opticians. They were real merchants that honed their craft and provided expertise to the people in the community that needed eyecare. This isn’t invented for us and that resonates. The family part is real and maybe that’s what you feel. What’s interesting is that our youngest customers, like, Gen Zs, are connecting to this as much as older ones. They’ve latched onto this sense of authenticity as they’ve discovered we’re not just fabricated by some creative guys who created a story for the internet. We are now a big brand but we’re part of the neighborhood, too.
What would the founding Moscots think of the business today? What would surprise them?
Harvey Moscot: The Moscots survived the oppression of Eastern Europe and built something in this country, so they would see it as the fulfillment of their American dreams. They’d be amazed that we now have shops around the world—here in the U.S. as well as in London, Rome, Milan, Tokyo, Seoul, Copenhagen, Amsterdam, Toronto, Paris and Zurich soon enough.
Zack Moscot: And also that our product line is as large as it is. They didn’t have nearly as many styles a few generations ago. The quality is high. Our retail footprint is growing and reaches across all ages and customer categories. They would definitely be proud.
From a success standpoint, what’s different about a family business?
Zack Moscot: We’re medium-sized so we are able to pivot and move fast when necessary. We don’t have massive layers of infrastructure so we can stay nimble, as we did during the pandemic. For instance, we now have the virtual try-on technology that brings the Moscot shop experience into the home, and provides a touchpoint for customers. We can evolve quickly, which is really cool for an old, old company like ours.
Harvey Moscot: We’re not highly leveraged. We’re experienced with challenges. I mean, we’ve been around for 107 years. We’ve survived wars and depressions and terrorist attacks and you learn and grow from those events.
Without using the terms “higher quality” or “finer craftsmanship,” tell me what distinguishes Moscot from the zillion other optical brands out there.
Zack Moscot: But those things are sorta true! I think expertise is a differentiator for us, and engagement. Harvey still interviews every single salesperson we hire, to vet their expertise personally. And we’re meticulous about the products we sell, whether it be using a real rivet and hinge that you can reinforce or replace. That makes the construction study. You can go in for tuneup if something gets loose, it’s not done and dusted, you know, you can have the same pair for a decade or two and we’ll continue to monitor and service it for you.
Harvey Moscot: Optics are complicated. It’s not like selling t-shirts. Something my grandfather and great-grandfather always said was, it’s not about the one-time sale. It’s about getting to know people, getting to know their needs and having a relationship over time.
Moscot has a wall of fame in its shops with celebrities wearing the glasses. What’s your favorite celeb encounter?
Harvey Moscot: You know, “favorite” isn’t really fair, because we’ve developed nice relationships over the years and I’ve had the good fortune to examine, not just celebrities, but people from all walks of life. But we just spent some time with Paul Rudd. We picked up lunch and he came in and I examined his eyes. He still will not let me retire from eye exams, even though some of my younger doctors are probably better suited to do it these days. I’ve been sticking my fingers in his eyeballs for 12 years, as he says, and he won’t let anyone else do it, and his mom’s great, too. He’s one of those great guys we’ve watched evolve and become a megastar—and yet, he’s never lost his sense who he is and where he came from. Which is kind like Moscot, come to think of it. We never forget where we came from.
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.