The Olive Link is more than just a business district. It’s a tightly knit neighborhood where the business owners see their regulars as friends and even family. Nowhere is this dynamic clearer than at Smith Optometry. Dr. Robert E. Smith and his wife, Alverta, are referred to by many who know them as the “Mom and Pop of U City,” and for 16 years they have provided eye care, companionship and a place where anyone is invited to hang their hat for a few minutes at their Parkway District office.
To understand the Smith’s role in the Olive Link, it is important to be aware of their history. The Smiths grew up in the City of St. Louis: Robert in South City’s Peabody projects, and Alverta in Pruitt Igoe and Blumeyer. While some would shy away from claiming this part of their history, they enthusiastically embrace it. As Alverta has told her students over the years, they believe people should not let their environment define who they are or limit their success. This is a philosophy they have shared almost from the time they first met in elementary school. Over the years they developed a strong friendship that would last through the time they graduated high school, Robert from St. Mary’s in 1970, and Alverta from St. Alphonsus “Rock” in 1972. Their relationship survived brief separations while Robert attended Ferris State University in Michigan and Alverta received military training as the first African-American woman to enlist in the Missouri Air National Guard. They married in 1976, and in 1978 they moved to University City’s third ward, not far from where Smith Optometry is located. They have remained there ever since.
As Robert worked as an optician, Alverta pursued her own post-secondary education. In 1984 she received an associate’s degree in general studies from St. Louis Community College – Forest Park, and in 1986 she earned an associate of science in registered nursing. In 1989 she joined the St. Louis Public School District as a health careers instructor, and in 1993 she took on a second job as an Allied Health instructor at STLCC Forest Park.
As Alverta transitioned into a career path of health education and nursing, Robert began to feel that he needed a change in his own professional life. After much consideration, he decided to enroll in UMSL’s School of Optometry. He graduated in 1994 with a Doctor of Optometry degree and officially became known as Dr. Smith. For the next five years, Dr. Smith worked as an optometrist for various eye health institutions. In 1999 he decided to apply his eye care skills to an entrepreneurial venture and founded Smith Optometry.
Basing Smith Optometry in University City’s Olive Link was ideal to both Dr. Smith and Alverta. “Olive is a great place for a small business,” says Dr. Smith “We would never consider anywhere else. It’s affordable, and visible because of the traffic moving between Skinker and 170. It’s diverse and community focused, and the proximity to Wash U has given us a large roster of college students among other demographics.”
The community has greatly benefited from Smith Optometry’s presence on Olive. In addition to eye care services ranging from comprehensive eye exams to emergency services for red eye and foreign bodies, Dr. Smith will go out of his way to perform house-calls and deliver prescriptions to housebound patients. He takes particular interest in diagnosing and treating vision issues resulting from diabetes, high blood pressure and glaucoma among African-Americans and Hispanics, who are at high risk for these conditions and yet are often undertreated. Even non-patients are positively impacted by Smith Optometry’s presence. Dr. Smith and Alverta are huge supporters of University City’s police and fire departments, and they even provide officers and firefighters with appreciative lunches from time to time. It’s also not unusual for Olive pedestrians to stop by for a small chat with Dr. Smith, Alverta, or Rosalind, a former student of Alverta’s who now works at Smith Optometry’s front desk. This patient-first, community-oriented dynamic is a key trait that distinguishes not only Smith Optometry but also the Olive Link as a great place to do business.
Smith Optometry is truly a quintessential University City small business. Dr. Smith and Alverta are U City citizens, as well as St. Louisans, through and through. When they aren’t dedicating their time to their jobs, Dr. Smith to his practice and Alverta to occasional instruction at STLCC and to her new position on the Crime Victim Advocacy Center’s board of directors, they enjoy rooting for the Cardinals and supporting other businesses, organizations and institutions that define the heart of our beloved region. It’s a small wonder that anyone who walks into Smith Optometry feels like they’re among family and friends, because the Smith’s make it clear in word and action that coming together with all of our different skills and quirks results in a better community for us all.
6795 Olive Blvd.
University City, MO 63130