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BY ALBERT AMATEAU | Harold Kent, founder of Economy Best Vision and Hearing on W. 14th St., died last September at age 86, but his son, Edward, who learned the business from his father, is carrying on the family tradition at the store between Seventh and Eighth Aves.
The tradition goes back nearly six decades.
“My father had three stores on 14th St.,” said Edward. “One branch of the family was in the eyeglass business, but he went on his own and opened the first Economy Best Vision between Sixth and Seventh Aves. about 55 years ago.” Later, the business moved to an upscale part of 14th St. between Fifth and Sixth Aves. where it was known as Optical City.
“I remember sweeping the floor at that location when I was 9 years old,” Edward recalled.
When commercial rents began to soar in the early 1980s, Edward, who was taking a bigger role in the businesses, found the present location at 223 W. 14th St.
Back then, W. 14th St. between Seventh and Eighth Aves. still retained some of the aura of “Little Spain.” It was the site of Our Lady of Guadalupe. The church, dedicated to the patron saint of Mexico, has since moved into the merged parish of St. Bernard’s, between Eighth and Ninth Aves. on W. 14th St. A few Spanish restaurants and a Spanish bookshop have also gone, but La Nacional and the Spanish Benevolent Society are holding on.
Nevertheless, some longtime merchants remain. Peter Wallach, doing business as owner of the nearby Frame Shop since 1978, said that local merchants share a pride in the neighborhood and patronized each other.
Harold Kent was born in Brooklyn, the son of Bernard and Hannah Kent, but the family moved to Florida at some point.
“He used to talk about parking cars for hotel guests in Miami Beach,” Edward said of his father. “He played guitar and was a professional mambo dancer for a season in the Catskills. He served in the Navy for four years on a minesweeper. They picked up mines and blew them up. Two men from the Navy were at the funeral on Long Island in September and presented my mother with a flag. It was very moving,” he recalled.
In addition to his son, also surviving Harold Kent are his daughter, Elizabeth, his wife of 55 years, Ida Rose Kent, and four grandsons, Louis, Victor, Brian and Andrew.