December 27, 2004
When it comes to people, Bill and George Gatesh have always had vision.
The Canadian-born brothers think selling themselves is what has kept Gatesh Optical in downtown Scottsdale going for 40 years. Their credo seems to be "come in as a customer, leave as a friend."
"I’m the young one," George said. "I’m only 87. My brother is one year and seven months older."
"I’m thrilled at getting old," Bill said. "Every year I get older, I’m eliminating my competition."
Competition has been stiff for the Gatesh brothers, who became opticians during the 1950s in Ontario, Canada. They continue to stave off large chain optical retailers with their service and personalities.
Want opticians with style? Go see these guys.
"They are characters," said Jan White of Scottsdale, a customer of 15 years. "They are great people and they do great work."
Life has treated the Gateshes well. Bill began grinding lenses when he was 17. Two years later, he was foreman at an optical plant and was asked if he knew anyone who might fit in well. He told the owner about his brother George, who was hired.
"We have personality. We treat people like family," George said. "We know them by their first names. No matter who you are or what you do, you’ll be treated well."
Some of the brothers’ wellknown customers include singer Glen Campbell, newsman Hugh Downs, baseball manager Leo Durocher and actor Buster Crabbe.
"Buster Crabbe said, ‘You don’t know who I am!’ " George said. "I said, ‘Yes I do and would you mind going outside and putting out your cigarette?’ He grumbled, but he did it."
The Gateshes work threeday weeks. They have never had an optometrist in their office — they are like pharmacists filling prescriptions — but have a list of doctors customers have gone to.
Bill moved the business he started in Canada to Scottsdale 40 years ago and George followed five years later. Bill said the business almost failed during his first three years in the Valley, to the point where he was three and four months behind in rent and received an eviction notice. He overcame the plight and the business has thrived ever since.
Bill still lifts weights and is a professional quality bowler. He boasts about being able to beat others half his age at either sport. He’ll arm wrestle anyone.
"We’re characters," George said. "We’re not the average opticians."
Everyday People is a weekly look at people with ties to Scottsdale who might not otherwise be in the news. If you know someone who would make a good subject for Everyday People, e-mail John Leptich at firstname.lastname@example.org or call (480) 970-2333.