Spex Pistols: building a community in the heart of Dundee

A heaven of vintage spectacles, this indie shop turns your shopping experience into a hug, and it’s a bliss

Spex Pistols is an independent shop in the Scottish city of Dundee, founded by Richard Cook in 2012. A lens maker since 1987, Richard has worked for fifteen years for many of the leading High Street optical brands, where he found out that customers were hungry for good service. Part of the spectacular offer — from vintage Zoe, retro Raybans, to wing tips and aviators, in an array of colours and shapes you would only dare to imagine in your wildest dreams, is a warm and expert care. I say care because what happens here is so much more than “customer service”.

Inside Spex Pistols, Dundee.

This optical boutique has been a huge success since it opened, among locals and visitors alike— and I’m one of those visitors that truly fell in love with the place. It is a bliss just to look at the colourful displays of vintage frames but also to discover all sorts of objects and collectibles, from antique toys, old ophthalmology books to enamel shop signs and industrial furniture, all scattered around the shop.

Charming you already from outside is the huge graffiti art adorning the walls of Johnston’s Lane where the shop is.

The whole atmosphere is visually enchanting, and on top of all this beauty, there’s great music playing — the name of the shop should give you a clue that the owner is a music lover. There even is a mirror connected to a cloud-based facial recognition service, as Professor Jon Rogers (University of Dundee) explains in this piece, “to guess your age and play you music from when the mirror perceived you to be 14.” Another example of Spex Pistols being much more than a shop.

It had been a while since I was offered such a warm welcome in any shop really, but that spotless a customer service I had never seen. I bought myself two pairs of frames, and I thought I’d have to come back home to have the prescription glasses made. But Richard quickly checked the glasses I had on and announced to me that they did have my prescription in stock. He went up the stairs to the small mezzanine where they make the glasses, and got my two pairs of vintage William Morris ready in about 20 minutes. Usually, it takes a week for me to get my prescription glasses ready…

I also had the chance to experience first hand how Richard is truly connected to the creative community of Dundee. As I was attending the Dundee Design Festival and its various events, I regularly bumped into Richard and his family, as they were talking to people, sharing, listening to talks, going through the exhibition at the festival… In short, being part as well as contributing to their local community.

Dundee Literature Festival Director Peggy Hugues taking a selfie with Spex Pistols founder Richard Cook outside the shop.

One way Spex Pistols creates a community is also online. You only need to check their Instagram or Facebook accounts to see the love and care they share. Customers — or visitors, get themselves photographed with some fabulous specs (here I am with my new pair of glasses), and so we all feel part of the whole atmosphere of joy and beauty created by Richard.

I wish there were more places like Spex Pistols. The experience of buying a pair of glasses here is pretty similar to the one of being hugged.

Spex Pistols is a wonderful example that a shopping experience doesn’t necessarily has to rhyme with mere consumerism, that you can be friendly, warm and still offer impeccable service, that culture is everywhere and that you can create a genuine community even when you sell products. The magic word here I guess is genuine, because if this shop exists, it’s because its founder is passionate about his craft and about people. You can’t get more genuine than that.