141 Years of History, and a New Location to Boot: St. Louis Icon Erkers Eyewear

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Erkers’ newest location is in the Saint Louis Galleria, one of the city’s premier shopping destinations. Image courtesy of Erkers.

ST. LOUIS—It was over 100 years ago, in 1879, when A.P. Erker arrived in the U.S. from Germany and founded Erkers in St. Louis, Missouri. Within a few years, A.P.’s brother August joined the business, and the rest, as they say, is history. Erkers is officially the first optical laboratory west of the Mississippi River, and also served as the official photographer for the 1904 St. Louis World’s Fair. The company is a steadfast and integral part of both St. Louis’ history and American optical history—and that stands true to today.

“Still today, we are a family business,” Jack Erker III told VM. “My brother, Tony Erker, and I represent the 5th generation of the company along with my father, Jack Erker Jr., who represents the 4th generation. We work very well with each other in order to methodically continue to grow the company… I grew up in the family business as a young child and lived and breathed every facet of the eyewear business, from factories, labs, wholesale and retail.”

Although the Erkers family business has been at St. Louis staple since 1879, that has by no means led to stagnation or outdated ways of doing business. In fact, things are constantly updating and changing at Erkers—including the business’ new Galleria location, which opened up this October. Erker explained, “The Saint Louis Galleria is the premier shopping destination in St. Louis where the top stores are located. The customers are from many demographics and come from all over to shop with us. The traffic in the mall allows us to have a larger reach to continue to grow the brand within the region.” The new location showcases a timeless aesthetic, and underscores the company’s high standards of quality.


The Galleria location showcases a timeless aesthetic, and underscores the company’s high standards of quality. Image courtesy of Erkers.

 
Jack Erker III and Tony Erker represent the fifth generation of the Erker family to work in the family business. Image courtesy of Erkers.
With three locations, Erkers is an independent optical success story—but the fact that it is an independent is vital to that success, Erker said. “There is a shift in consumer behavior to support independent brands and I believe we have positioned ourselves well to show the consumer who we are. Our customers on every level know we are a family and we try to make them feel like they are part of the family and the history that makes us who we are. We have been living and breathing eyewear for 141 years and it is all we know. We are able to push the limits in design and concepts and we are able to move quickly when we see a niche that needs to be filled. Since we are the oldest optical retailer in the U.S. still owned by the founding family, we are able to utilize our rich history to tell every part of our story within our eyewear.”

In addition to its outstanding retail presence, the Erkers company also features a wholesale business called Studio Optyx. Erker explained, “Our business up until I graduated from college, was focused on our high end retail stores. We needed to grow and I needed to pave a way for myself within the company. Along with my father and brother, we created a wholesale part of our business that manufactures and distributes our brands.” This includes Monoqool, Derapage, NW 77th, Eclipse, and, of course, Erkers 1879.

With so many different arms of the business, it’s no wonder that the tight-knit Erker family has been an optical mainstay for so long. From providing the eyeglasses to Charles Lindbergh for his transatlantic flight in 1927 to COVID-19, there’s almost nothing the Erker’s family business hasn’t seen. Erker said, “There are many unknowns in the current economy. Throughout our history, we have battled numerous wars, including WWI, WWII, and the Spanish Flu. Although we are cautious, we have to continue to look toward the future in order to keep the company growing. We saw this as a great opportunity to continue to do this.”


A.P. Erker first opened Erkers in St. Louis in 1879. Image via erkerseyewear on Instagram.



The Erker family formerly received their trademark in 1917. Image via erkerseyewear on Instagram.