Warby Parker, the online retailer that in five years became one of the hottest names in eyewear, will build its first Twin Cities retail presence in the expanded Askov Finlayson, the fashion outpost of Eric and Andrew Dayton in Minneapolis’ North Loop.
Opening in early August, Warby Parker will have about 250 square feet of space inside Askov Finlayson, enough to carry its entire line of eyeglasses and sunglasses for men and women.
“Minneapolis is quickly establishing itself as a hotbed of design intelligence, and Askov Finlayson is a prime example,” said Neil Blumenthal, Warby Parker co-founder and co-CEO, in a statement. “Andrew and Eric Dayton founded their company with an eye toward style, integrity and doing good in the world.”
The Dayton brothers, sons of Gov. Mark Dayton and grandsons of the founder of Target stores, announced earlier this year that they would expand Askov Finlayson, which specializes in men’s clothing and accessories, into a building next to the former warehouse it now shares with a restaurant and bar.
They will also expand several other lines of products, including Frost River men’s accessories out of Duluth, custom-designed paddles from Sanborn Canoe of Winona and Freemans Sporting Club suits.
Both Askov Finlayson and Warby Parker share a philanthropic vision. The Dayton brothers contribute 5 percent of Askov’s pretax profits to charity. Warby Parker’s founders donate a pair of eyeglasses to developing countries for each pair sold.
“We believe that everyone has the right to see, which is why for every pair of glasses sold, a pair is distributed to someone in need through our Buy a Pair, Give a Pair Program,” Blumenthal wrote in an e-mail. “Since launching in 2010, we’ve distributed over 1 million pairs of glasses to people in need around the world.”
The New York-based company, named after characters Warby Pepper and Zagg Parker in Jack Kerouac writings, is known primarily for offering inexpensive alternatives to Luxottica, the world’s largest eyewear company and owner of LensCrafters, Pearle Vision and Sunglass Hut. Complete eyeglasses run from $95 for frames with standard lenses to $295 for frames with progressive lenses. The showroom will have advisers who help process prescription orders and an optician to measure pupillary distances.
The company began in 2010 and, aiming to make people comfortable with online ordering of glasses, allowed customers to try up to five pairs of frames for a week before ordering. Gradually, it started opening its own stores around the country.
For a month in 2013, it operated a pop-up store on wheels in Minneapolis. “Ever since we rolled through Minneapolis in the Warby Parker Class Trip bus, we’ve been thinking about coming back and setting up shop,” Blumenthal said.
The Dayton brothers launched Askov Finlayson in 2011 when they restored a former warehouse into a space that also includes the Bachelor Farmer restaurant and Marvel Bar. After they move the clothing store next door, the brothers will add an informal breakfast/lunch spot this fall.
The new, expanded Askov Finlayson store will be next door in what was once the Historic Hennepin Hotel. The first floor will be retail and the second and third floors will be for office space and product design.
A concrete slab between the buildings will be turned into space for al fresco eating and drinking.
After stocking the stores with many Minnesota brands and creating their own North brand of goods, Eric Dayton said that e-commerce business has them considering an audience beyond Minnesota. The North brand, which has gotten attention in national publications like Vanity Fair, is taking off “in a way we hadn’t planned for,” Dayton said.
More than 2,600 North caps and hats have been sold, he said. The waiting list for North stocking caps has 600 people on it.
A small company in Cloquet produces the hats. Dayton said Askov Finlayson has to wait in line behind the company’s bigger business, making hats for youth hockey players. “We don’t have priority status,” he said.