Tax Prep and Glasses in One UWS Storefront? How A Genius Partnership Helped Two Women Beat the Odds and Make the Rent

By Carol Tannenhauser

What are an optical store and a tax preparation service doing sharing an awning, an address — 2662 Broadway at 101st Street — and a rent bill?

They’re dealing creatively with the high cost of doing business on the Upper West Side.

Awilda Sosa and Maria DiCairano met in 2008, while considering the same vacant space for their respective businesses: Angel Eyes Optical and MID Tax Service. Instead of competing for the spot, they struck up a conversation.

“We learned that we were both single moms, putting our children through college,” said Maria, a tax preparer, enrolled agent and accountant. “We had similar marital issues.”

“We were both divorced, raising kids without help from the spouses,” Awilda, an optician, joined in. “We’re hard workers, go-getters. We don’t believe in the word no. We…”

“…figure it out,” Maria finished her sentence.

“This store is a perfect example,” Awilda continued. “We knew Maria had a striving business that she could build. And we knew I had a great business, because I’ve been on the Upper West Side for 25 years and had a great following. We couldn’t let the high rents become an obstacle. By the end of that first conversation, we realized we really did have a lot in common and maybe we should take a space together.”

“Everybody thought we were crazy,” Maria recalled. “CPAs I know said, ‘Why would you share a space with an optician?’”

“Because people who need glasses get their taxes done, and people who get their taxes done need glasses!” Awilda proclaimed.

“We’ve both built our practices as a result of the other,” Maria said. “Even more important, we support and help each other. I’ll answer the phone and jump behind the counter if Awilda’s not here. I can show lenses and frames and put a screw in the nose thing if it comes off.”

“I can help Maria’s clients when she’s out,” Awilda said. “Some of them look at me like, ‘How do you know about taxes?’ I say, ‘After 10 years, you learn!’”

The women’s friendship extends beyond their shared business space. Their children have become friends, and the two families spend birthdays and graduations together. The latter are especially meaningful.

“People stop in front of the store and say, ‘Taxes? Glasses? Ha, ha, ha,” Awilda explained. “But, meanwhile, we put two kids through college.”

“No student loans,” Maria added. “We’re up to date.”

The rent for Angel Eyes Optical/MID Tax Service is $9,000 a month.

”Can you imagine if we didn’t split it?” Maria asked. “The landlord would be the only one making money!”

”By joining together, we’re also keeping our services at prices people can afford,” Awilda said. “It’s good for the neighborhood.”

Last year, Maria and Awilda signed a new ten-year lease.

”We renewed our vows,” they said, at the same time, laughing.

“Like any good marriage, we have our problems once in awhile, but we work them out,” Maria concluded. “Divorce is not an option. We’ve got nine years left on our lease!”

We love the Upper West Side’s small businesses and want them to survive. That’s one reason we’ve been profiling them for over a year now. Shop local, and read previous articles in our series!

COLUMNS, REAL ESTATE | 16 comments | permalink
    1. sam says:

      I pass that store every day and always wondered about it. There are actually numerous storefronts around that advertise Income tax preparation (I am always dubious of them).

      Good for them! But, I wonder – most of the accounting/tax work is word of mouth/referral. Nobody “walks in” for the tax services. So, for someone that simply does accounting office work and doesn’t have a dedicated shingled office, why would they spend $4,500 plus tax/utilities on that space monthly? I would certainly invest that money in a larger apartment where I could have a nice dedicated office.

      • Sarah says:

        Most *more sophisticated* CPA work is referral. Tons of lower-income people walk in to do their taxes. This part of the neighborhood is demographically mixed and so a walk-in CPA does better here than it might a mile or so south.

        • Sherman says:

          This tax preparer is not a CPA. She is instead an Enrolled Agent which is a professional designation for tax professionals but different from a CPA.

          Anyway, it’s nice to see small businesses adapting to changing times and surviving on the UWS. Good luck to these two women.

          • B.B. says:

            There is a historical rivalry as to which exam is more difficult; the bar or CPA. *LOL*

            That being said yes, not all holding an accounting degree are CPAs, nor is it required to earn a living as an accountant.

            Plenty of persons with an accountant degree and or at least enough background make a living in whole or part doing taxes. Online services like TurboTax and or various software had taken a bite out of such services, but they are still around and needed.

            Main difference between an accountant and CPA is only the latter only can write an audited financial statement, such as a balance sheet or income statement. Depending upon career/employment goals not every accounting graduate feels it is worth it going through the licensure/exam process to become a CPA.

    2. JD says:

      Interesting concept. Maybe other businesses should try it.

    3. Sarah says:

      I’ve walked by this store many times and wondered what its story was. Good thinking, ladies!

    4. dannyboy says:

      Maria is enthusiastic and creative. My wife went in for just one pair of glasses. She was so pleased that she also had lenses put into the old frames and a pair of sunglasses repaired.

    5. dannyboy says:

      Make that “Awilda”, Maria only helps with the eyeglass business.

    6. Dana says:

      I’ve bought from Awilda since 2004 when she was still at Pildes at 95th and Bway. She’s wonderful to work with and her commitment to the neighborhood is a step above. She offers quality brands that you can’t and will never find at any of Luxotica’s near-monopoly chain stores that won’t fall apart in less than a year. I highly recommend her for her graciousness and service.

    7. MelB says:

      My family loves Angel Eyes! Awilda outfits my two kids in the best eyewear – she knows exactly what style works for them and gives lovely hands on service. My daughter loves to raid their candy bowl! They also take UFT eyeglass vouchers for those of you who teach out there.

    8. Kathryn Klein Eddy says:

      Awilda is great, and she offers the best quality lenses available. Highly recommended.

    9. Harriet says:

      Awilda —- you go , girl

      I too have have followed Awilda from Pildes to her own store on 98th street and the current location.

      She is caring, exact and professional — always with a smile on her face.

      She has also done a wonderful job raising her two daughters — she is proud of them and I know they feel the same about her.

      Keep up the good work.

    10. David Ochoa says:

      Congratulations Awilda and Maria. I often walk by your shop, and never thought more than, ‘that’s so UWS, love it.’ Good to know your story, it reflects the spirit of the community. Best wishes and good luck with a continued good run.

    11. PJ says:

      I have had my taxes done by many tax preparers working out of part of their small NYC apartments and I never felt I was in the hands of a professional. It was always obvious “doing taxes” was a side line and not their main concern. With Maria, I feel I’m working with a real pro, and in a professional setting.

    12. Lois Leatherman says:

      Awilda is my go-to person for glasses and she has been for more than a decade. She provides a level of personal service and care and professionalism that you don’t get from a chain store.

    13. Gail says:

      I’m so happy to have found Maria, and right in the neighborhood. She did a great job on my taxes, which were a bit complex this past year, and is a pleasure to work with.