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“I’ve never applied for a job in my life; I’ve never been on a job interview,” Jim Albright says with a laugh.
His fifty years as an optician began at age fifteen. “My father, Ronald, started Albright Opticians in 1965 and one day in 1966 he was busy and he needed help. He woke me up one summer morning and said, ‘Get up, kid, you’re going to work!’” Albright recalls. Little by little, his dad taught him about the business. “Here I am, fifty years later, still waiting to go on my first job interview,” Albright says with enthusiasm.
As a self-confessed practical joker, he pulls a black Speedo out of the top desk drawer and laughs, asking what he should wear for his photograph. He’s amused that he can incite laughter so easily when he is simply being himself.
A graduate of Manheim Township and Franklin and Marshall College, Albright studied business management and accounting. When he eventually bought the business from his father, he expanded from three stores to eleven and, at one time, employed sixty-three people. He also owned a wholesale company. “Then one day I got a phone call from one of the managers in Delaware saying ‘I’m too sick, I can’t go to work,’ so I had to jump in the car and go to Delaware to work and I realized that bigger doesn’t mean better,” he says. “It was more important to have my sanity and have a life than it was working eighty hours a week.” It’s much more manageable now that he has two stores, his own lab to do the work, and eleven employees all certified by the American Board of Opticianry.
In the early 2000s he started an Internet company called In-Spex that specialized in prescription sports eyewear. Interested in cycling and triathlons, he noticed that people weren’t wearing protective eyewear—because it wasn’t available.
“There are a lot of complications in making those types of lenses but I developed the formula to figure out how to compensate for the curve of the lenses to account for what’s called facial wrap,” he explains. Nobody else in the country was doing this. Rudy Project, a company from Treviso, Italy, found his site and was interested in his formula. “They were fascinated by what my partner and I were doing and I worked with them for six years as their worldwide optical consultant,” Albright says. This exchange included living in Italy for a month at a time. He rented a place in Murano, a small island next to Venice, and invited his friends back home to come visit. Every morning he would go down to the fruit boat and buy his breakfast. “I never wore a watch the whole time I was there. I never knew what time it was,” he reminisces.
To this day, long after the In-Spex site came down, Albright still gets people who find him and ask him for another pair. “It was fun. I had a great time. Our tagline was Practice Safe Spex. Wear Protection,” he says with laughter. “We had our logo on The Today Show. That was pretty cool.”
Outside of his work, Albright and his longtime girlfriend, Kim, find enjoyment restoring their 3,500-square-foot home, displaying lots of local artwork. He’s also become a master wallpaper hanger, meticulously wallpapering his ceilings. Old House Journal will feature the completed renovations later this year. Albright also enjoys playing the piano and guitar. His pride and joy is his 1865 Steinway Square Grand Piano with original ivories, ebony, and hand-carved Brazilian rosewood. “I play for my own enjoyment and I can’t read music, so I’m not very good. But I can listen to something and learn to play it,” he says. Albright, the former owner of the Chameleon Night Club, is a huge supporter of Music for Everyone and Roots & Blues. He also visits his ninety-two year old mother, Jane, who worked as a chemist for Armstrong and now resides at Country Meadows Retirement Community. Albright likes to make her laugh with funny poems he writes. “My parents met on a blind date and six months later they got married and lived happily together until my father sadly passed away from leukemia about a decade ago.”
Albright doesn’t take life too seriously—and that’s a refreshing attitude in an increasingly self-important culture. “Simple minds have simple pleasures,” he says with charm. No matter what comes next, Albright will continue to move forward—arriving in stylish, yet unconventional ways. In fact, he’s a licensed hot air balloon pilot. Regardless of what he’s looking for, he sees the world in a different way—perhaps because his vantage point is ever changing. Maybe he has found the formula for living a good life. Besides his ponytail and his smile, what people see when they look at him is someone who is authentic—and still crazy after all these years.