Visionary Laguna Beach retailer celebrates 47 Years

European Optical’s Udo Stoeckmann in front of his shop in 1981. The business is celebrating 47 years in June. Photo courtesy of European Optical

By Barbara McMurray, Special to the Independent

European Optical, one of Laguna’s oldest family-run businesses, is marking its forty-seventh year as it shakes off pandemic-related malaise.

As with all California businesses, it’s been a long 15 months for the boutique optical shop – but before the lockdown, plans were already in place to move the shop 60 feet south on Coast Highway to a stylish, spacious facility to display and dispense

The shop’s energetic owner, Astrid Chitamun, a licensed optician and frame stylist, said the new location is more popular than ever with passersby since the move a year ago. Founded by her father, Udo Stoeckmann, European Optical occupied a space in the Shire Shops, a distinctive building designed by the late architect Christian Abel, for more than four decades. The new corner location at Cress Street has more windows and even better visibility, Chitamun noted.

The family legacy began when Stoeckmann, a licensed optometrist and master optician in his native Germany, immigrated to Milwaukee in 1958. He came west to escape the cold and found work in Los Angeles optical shops. On a visit to Laguna Beach, he fell in love with the sleepy beach town “full of hippies” and opened his business in 1974, becoming renowned as the shopkeeper who was a whiz when it came to repairing glasses

The business flourished and the shop became a staple of Laguna’s specialty shops that serves both residents and visitors. It has a full-service lab on its premises for speedier service and higher levels of quality control. Technicians can repair and tighten frames and tint lenses for both fashion and utility. Chitamun sees European Optical as part of a community of optical experts, nurturing working relationships with local eye doctors to ease customers through the exam-dispensing process.

Stoeckmann retired in 2008 and turned the business over to his daughter. At 91, he golfs, bikes, or paddleboards every day, keeping in close touch with his daughter. 

Chitamun has a background in art and fashion design, and her easygoing nature is well-suited to customer service. She learned the opticianry trade alongside her father and designs her own colorful line of frames, EO by Astrid, manufactured in Germany to her exacting specifications.

She’s been selling sunglasses and eyewear for almost 40 years.

Astrid Chitamun, daughter of founder Udo Stoeckmann, pauses to reflect on the shop’s legacy of 47 years in Laguna Beach. Photo by Barbara McMurray

Chitamun started working in the family’s sunglass store on Balboa Island when she was 14 years old, she said. In high school and college, she designed clothing and jewelry before attending the Fashion Institute of Design & Merchandising in downtown Los Angeles.

“I love the art of optics because stylish eyewear makes people feel better about themselves,” Chitamun said. “Physically, they see better, and my staff and I love helping them choose glasses that match their personality and lifestyle.”

One of her favorite everyday moments is when neighbors and friends run into each other at the store. She also enjoys serving multi-generational families now.

“My dad used to say it doesn’t feel like I work because he enjoyed what he did,” Chitamun observed. “I feel the same way.”

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