– Verbelee Nielsen-Swanson –
Founder and Owner
When Verbelee Nielsen-Swanson was cleaning out her late mother’s estate a few years ago, she found her own first pair of eyeglasses: blue cat-eye frames she had started wearing in fifth grade. Her mom had held onto them over the years. Nielsen-Swanson smiled about the memory and then donated the glasses — not realizing she’d soon wish she had them back.
Nielsen-Swanson is the founder and owner of Oxford Eyes, a boutique eyewear shop that opened in 2018 in the Lake Ivanhoe district of Orlando. She now counts 22 pairs of eyeglasses and 10 pairs of sunglasses in her personal collection.
“Eyewear is an expression of you, and it’s the first thing people notice, the first accessory,” she said. “It serves your interest to get it right. This has been heightened with COVID because most of us are in meetings virtually, and if we’re not then we’re out and about and everyone is wearing a mask. So what you really see is the eyes and the eyewear.”
Nielsen-Swanson is passionate when she talks about her business. She likes to quip: “A face is like a work of art. It deserves a great frame.”
How she came to start this new venture after retiring from a career in health care administration at what is now the AdventHealth hospital system is a tale of several coincidences. To her, it seems like it was just meant to be.
She had been a longtime patient at Swanson Sowers Lee & Yager, P.A., an optometry practice her father-in-law, Dr. Reynold Swanson, co-founded on Marks Street in Orlando. As the practice morphed over 50 years and the last of the partners sold to an ophthalmologist, the practice and the optical store connected to it were changing focus. Nielsen-Swanson stopped by one day to have a pair of eyeglasses adjusted, and she heard the news.
She didn’t want to see the shop’s talented optical team split up. Plus, where would she get her eyeglasses? She had an idea. She and her husband, Bob Swanson, had been traveling around the world as new retirees and had visited optical boutiques that carried unique frames not available in Central Florida.
“That seeded the idea that there was a need and a gap here,” she said. “And of course, this shop had the most amazing team, and the community needed them, with their experience, their passion and their great relationship.” – Verbelee Nielsen-Swanson
So she hired two opticians and an eyewear specialist from the Marks Street location, and today they help customers choose glasses according to face shape, prescription requirements and personal style. In fact, specialist Lisa Sarles has at least 30 pairs of eyeglasses herself.
Nielsen-Swanson has a theory behind that: “You need an eyewear wardrobe. You don’t have one pair of shoes.”
Opening and furnishing the shop allowed Nielsen-Swanson to put to work another of her passions: interior design. Named after both an aunt in Alabama and a Southern flower, she had double-majored in interior design and business in college, followed by an MBA, with plans to follow in her mother’s footsteps.
“My mother was an amazing woman, and when we moved here from South Dakota she opened a furniture store and went on to become a licensed interior designer. She always had the heart of an entrepreneur, and it was fun watching her working and envisioning and creating spaces that were functional and beautiful and reflected the personality of the user.” – Verbelee Nielsen-Swanson
Nielsen-Swanson chose the name Oxford for her store because of its location in College Park, where the streets are named after academic institutions, and because of connections to her life, including a year she spent in England in college.
“Oxford University stands for substance, learning, growing, academia,” she said. “I knew that going into business was going to be a learning experience. It also kind of fit with the aesthetics we wanted to build. We have a lot of books in our décor.”
She chose its location because of her dedication to Ivanhoe Village Main Street, where she chairs the economic vitality committee and serves as president-elect of the board. She’s also involved in other community organizations, serving as president of Florida Executive Women and as co-chair of the Harbor House domestic violence shelter’s annual fundraiser, the Purple Door Luncheon. That’s when she’s not picking out new inventory for the shop.
So what is her favorite style? “I’m consistent at least,” she said. “It’s still the cat eye. It’s a classic yet it’s bold and it has a bit of fun and spunk and sass to it. I just recently got a cat eye in almost the same shade as my very first pair.”