A glimpse of 50 years in optometry

COSTA MESA — Custom Eyes Optometry has changed a lot since the days when gas was 15 cents a gallon, Alpha Beta was the big grocery store and eye exams were conducted using a black sheet with a white circle painted in the center.

"This town was way, way laidback in those times," said Dr. Lester Zeff, 87, who opened the practice on 17th Street in 1960 and is joining in a 50th anniversary celebration with the current partners Saturday. "There were only three optometrists back then, and I was one of them."

Since then, however, "technology has gone through the roof," said Zeff, who is now retired, but still renews his optometrist's license every two years.

Pointing out a modern machine used for examining a patient's depth perception, a white computerized box about the size of a small packing crate, Zeff said that his first such machine in 1975 barely fit into an exam room.

"But I'd say the biggest change, by far, has been the popularity and advancing technology for contact lenses," Zeff said.

Early contact lenses were created by plastic molds, covered the entire surface of the eyeball, and could only be worn for about three hours at a time.

While the tools enabling the doctor to care for his patients have changed, many of those same patients are still coming to the practice half a century later for their annual eye exams.

"Patients are so loyal to Dr. Zeff," said Dr. Michael Bourgoin, who along with his wife, Dr. Jean Yoo, bought the practice in 2002. "I really enjoy assisting Dr. Zeff's patients. We have a lot of new patients, too, but I really enjoy hearing the stories from a long time ago."

In taking over the practice, the husband-wife team overcame their first hurdle: earning the long-time patients' trust.

The new partners carried on in the same tradition of personal care and individual attention, Bourgoin said.

When the duo decided to relocate the practice to Newport Boulevard in 2007, it was after much thought and planning to ensure continued responsibility to the patients.

"I would have rather stayed and expanded," Bourgoin said. "But it was a small office, and we didn't have that opportunity … We were growing and needed more room."

Bourgoin and Yoo settled into an upscale office in Costa Mesa Courtyards shopping center, close enough to the practice's original location so as to not inconvenience any customers, but with the capacity to fit the needs of the growing business and a changing industry.

"Optometrists have expanded in their abilities," Zeff said. "Legislation has provided them with tools that I didn't have … They have tremendous ability today to treat almost all conditions of the eye."

If You Go

What: 50th anniversary celebration of Custom Eyes Optometry

When: 1 to 4 p.m. Saturday

Where: 1835 Newport Blvd, Suite A111, Costa Mesa

Information: http://www.visionsource-customeyes.com

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