After more than thirty-five years, Dr. Gene Zackowski has retired but, rather than selling the Creston Optometric Eye Centre to a stranger, he has handed over the business to his son, Dr. Jan Zackowski and his business partner and classmate Dr. Scott Foutz.
“I’ve always been familiar with the profession,” says Dr. Jan Zackowski. “In high school I worked in the office, and then as a lab technician. I recognized that it was a good profession – that I’d be helping people and, as an optometrist, I was free to set my own hours and not have the crazy schedule that ER doctors often have.”
The decision to take over his father’s business was an easy one. “It’s difficult to start a new business and it takes a long time to build clientele or a reliable patient base,” says Zackowski. “Taking over my dad’s business was an obvious choice, and I’m really glad for the opportunity.”
Since graduating, Zackowski has worked in several communities across British Columbia. “Up until last year I was flying to Terrace and Kitimat, as well as working here. Before that I was in Nelson full-time for three years. I gradually worked here more and more, but I’m glad I had the chance to see how other offices, clinics, and optometric eye centers operated, and now I can try to incorporate small changes while still providing the same services.”
Dr. Gene Zackowski had hoped to retire a couple years previously, and was about to advertise for a replacement when his son decided to step in. But running a thriving business can be overwhelming. “I told my dad that there had to be two of us, at least, so I phoned up one of my classmates from Pacific University in Forest Grove, Oregon. I needed a partner, and I knew Scott loved skiing and the quieter pace of life in the Kootenays.”
Unfortunately, it wasn’t the easy transition that both parties were hoping for. “I had just bought a house less than a year before Jan called me up,” says Foutz. “But I knew this was a perfect opportunity. The problem was with immigration. We started the process at the beginning of 2014. It took more than two years of waiting and hoping it would all work out. I was lucky that I was still able to work in New Mexico, and that Gene and Jan were willing to wait for me. It was frustrating, but we all persevered.”
Foutz also wanted a medical career that didn’t involve high levels of stress or long hours. “My father ran a family practice, and I watched him work a lot of late nights. I applaud those that work all hours in the medical field, but I wanted to spend time with my wife and daughter.”
Both doctors appreciate the pace and beauty of the Creston Valley, as well as the strong sense of community. “I’ve worked in towns of similar size, and they didn’t have the sense of community that I’ve found here,” says Foutz. “I’ve noticed a real commitment to local businesses. I’m impressed.”
Operating an optometric eye centre in a small town doesn’t mean resources are not what they could be in a big city. “Just because we’re in a small town, doesn’t mean we are limited. We are constantly updating our equipment,” says Zackowski. “My dad ran a good business and had a good reputation. There is a loyal patient base here and I intent to carry on that legacy.”
“I also think our patients appreciate that we want to be here and we’re not just biding our time before moving to a big city. Patients can expect regular care and consistency. There has been some staff turnover, so there’s some new faces behind the counter, but there’s always going to be a high level of professionalism,” says Foutz.
Living in Creston isn’t just about running a successful business; it’s also about being outdoors. “We both love to ski,” says Zackowski. “We’re not just business partners; we’re also skiing buddies. We’re both hoping for a good year on the slopes at Whitewater.”