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Cloverdale optometrist retires after 49 years
When you’ve always treated your patients and staff like family, it’s a given that your retirement party is going to feel more like a cosy reunion than a stuffy business function.
Saturday, Cloverdale Optometry is throwing a retirement party for the founder and former proprietor, Dr. Holger Pierce, who’s stepping away from the business after 50 years.
All former patients are invited to attend the party, says Pierce, who reveals that most of his them probably called him by his first name.
Entering full-fledged retirement has been a gradual process for Pierce, who at 73 remains active.
Denizens of downtown Cloverdale will remember his daily noon-hour runs, later supplanted by long walks.
He cycles, walks, plays golf, and curls in the winter. He and his wife, Anne, who also worked at the office, live on an acre, so there’s plenty of yard work demanding attention.
He also volunteers at Cloverdale Station and at the Peace Arch Visitor Centre, directing tourists to the top must-see sights.
Considering he’s been in optometry for five decades, it’s surprising to learn Pierce didn’t always want to be an optometrist.
When he was in high school in Surrey, he considered studying forestry, among other things.
But in his Grade 12 year, the students started asking their teacher what he would have done if he hadn’t gone into teaching.
“Optometrist,” came the reply. “It rang a bell.”
That summer, he was working in Victoria, where he introduced himself to an optometrist, who showed him around the practice.
“That was it!”
He opened Holger Pierce Optometry on 176 Street on August, 8, 1963, when he was just 23, fresh out of university.
After nearly 20 years at the original location, the business moved to 5666 176 Street, where Pierce Optometry continued to thrive.
In 2008, the business was sold to Dr. Ashifa Nurani and Dr. Anisa Nurani, sisters who moved the practice to its newest location at 5718 176A Street.
Although he now claims he was ready to retire, Pierce stayed on, gradually reducing the number of days he worked from four and a half to one and a half days a week, winding things down in 2012.
“After 49 years, it was time to move on,” he jokes.
Dr. Ashifa Nurani says she has learned a lot from Pierce.
“I think the biggest thing is treating my practice like family,” she says, noting that it’s not uncommon for her to see third-generation patients who have remained loyal to Pierce and the practice.
“It was small town, friendly,” Pierce adds. “I’m very pleased that Ashifa and Anisa are carrying on in that way. They haven’t changed the format of things. It isn’t high-pressure over there.”
Over 250 invitations have been sent out in advance of Saturday’s retirement party.
“That’s what happens when you practice for 49 years,” he laughs.
Two of the invites have gone to people who have been patients since the 1960s, underscoring the continuity of care he’s been able to provide.
The biggest change to the profession, he says, is the arrival of group practices. When he started out, optometrists were self practitioners.
“They might have a partner, but mostly we were individual. Now, they might have five, six, or seven people in there.”
These days, there’s also a lot more competition. When Pierce Optometry first opened its doors, there was only one, part-time optometrist in Cloverdale, and that fellow packed it in about nine months later.
Cloverdale, he says, has changed more in the past 10 to 15 years than in the previous 35. There’s more shopping and amenities like recreational facilities.
The closure of the Surrey Co-Op, a fixture of downtown Cloverdale, was a big change. “It was the place where everybody shopped.”
Pierce and Nurani say another big reason for the success of the business was Sylvia Leaf, a valued staff member who did everything from answer phones, perform preliminary tests on patients, fit glasses, and help patients pick out the right pair.
“She was the number-one reason people came to see me,” he says.
Leaf joined him on an eye care mission to Vietnam – a career highlight.
Many of the patients – women who had tended the rice paddies in the absence of husbands – needed cataract surgery.
Exposure to bright sunlight is one of the leading causes of cataracts, he explains. There was an ophthalmological clinic as part of the program.
“It was just an assembly line” of cataract surgeries, he recalls.
The pair were planning another trip when Leaf suffered a stroke, halting plans for the retirement party, too, until she was well enough to attend.
That’s why the retirement party is taking place 50 years after he first hung up his shingle.
It’s been a long road to recovery, but, “she’s coming on Saturday,” smiles Pierce.
– All former patients and staff are invited to the retirement party and open house at Cloverdale Optometry, 5718 176A Street, Saturday, Sept. 14 from 1-5 p.m.