How It All Started


A Life Full of Spectacles

Earl Hendrix, the founder of Hendrix & McGuire, was a Kansas rancher’s son; one of those kids enthralled by engines. He tinkered on farm machinery and taught himself to fix watches. Earl had to leave his hometown in a hurry at 17. Locking his friend in the city jailhouse as a prank, he found the law after him, instead. Earl hopped a lumbering train as it headed east for Kansas City, Kan., thereafter gaining the nickname “Tracks.”


The Doors Opened ...

In the big city, he started learning the optician’s craft of grinding lenses and fitting glasses that would serve him for the next 65 years. Propelled by his lifelong assurance and a confidence that he was always right, he got better jobs in Colorado and then in California. When Earl came to Portland after World War II, all the doctors were downtown and they didn’t sell glasses. Earl worked for another optician at first, then in 1955 went out on his own with partner Tom McGuire. By the late 1950’s, Earl ran the dispensary, and McGuire was out of the picture. Earl had a complete lab and could do it all. At one point, he had three shops, sometimes doing 50 pairs a day. He brushed off his shoes and straightened his tie before the doors opened. To customers he was a polite charmer. He was always ready to do a hot job for ranchers in town for the day, no extra charge. If a job was coded HOH and on a red tray, it meant “hell of a hurry”. Screws were tight, prescription doubled checked, ready to go out the door when the patient came in after lunch. There was never a charge to adjust frames. If the refraction wasn’t just right, Earl would remake it. If you couldn’t afford it, he wouldn’t charge anything. He was as sweet as pie with Mrs. Nussbaum, but he became a different person when he went through the doors into the back room. He had language that would make a mechanic blush. He ripped employees up and down, and they walked on eggshells. Employees learned to do a good job, or get a tray hurled at them. They knew not to ask him for a raise. But he would teach them all he knew.


Earl caught his stride ...

He never missed a day for sickness (that isn’t an excuse!) and wouldn’t go far on vacation because somebody else would have to be in charge. He was the only one who had the key to the downtown store.Display area Every single day, he ate half of one of his homegrown, home-canned peaches for lunch, with cottage cheese. Earl deplored vanity in customers, “These are to help you see, not fashion items!” But he himself loved great big, flashy, fast cars with lots of chrome. He liked to see how fast he could get through Dundee before he got a $2 ticket for speeding. He never liked credit (“What? Don’t people have real money?”) and always carried a wad of $400 in walking-around money. He could cash your paychecks so you wouldn’t have an excuse for not paying him right away. After work, he liked the Western Club above the shop for a drink. At home, he drank two gin and tonics after work. He’d drink one while the other was cooling. “Spec-peddling docs,” doctors who sold eyeglasses, burned Earl up. He felt doctors and corporations had stolen his beloved industry, and he deplored “Texas outfits” – one-hour glasses makers. And just because you were an eye doctor didn’t make you right. Doctors know about eyeballs, Earl said, but he knew about spectacles. He would dress down a doctor who wrote incorrect prescriptions. “This guy will drive his car into a brick wall!” he exclaimed. Only he used more colorful words. Because Earl was never wrong, he was the one doctors would call with questions.



Eyeglass making was computerized and there was only a handful of independent opticians left when Earl sold the store in 1990 in his 80’s. Earl’s two early marriages didn’t take, and then he met Vera Mae, the ex-wife of another optician. They were married 44 years and lived in the Argay Terrace area of Northeast Portland, traveled to Reno (Las Vegas was too flashy for Earl) and took a cruise through the Panama Canal, where the workings of the canal locks fascinated Earl. Vera died in 2003. After selling the store, Earl tinkered at his workbench. He bought an organ, but it was really just another gadget. He organized his tools and fixed things. You wouldn’t dare tell him if he’d done it wrong. He died July 18, 2004, at 95, and he got a shiny chrome casket. At the store that retains his name, Hendrix & McGuire customers still ask, “Is Earl still around?”


And Today ... How It Is Now

Today we have 4 women with 100 years of experience owning and running his original store. I wonder what he would think about that?