Dr. Finkelstein eyes retirement

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Dr. Ryan Shea, left, is taking over Dr. David Finkelstein's optometry business in Tisbury. - Rich Saltzberg

Dr. David Finkelstein has retired from his long optometry career in Tisbury. Dr. Ryan Shea, who began as Finkelstein’s protégé, has taken over the business Finkelstein built from scratch nearly 50 years ago. 

Shea began working for Finkelstein at 24 years old, fresh out of New England College of Optometry in Boston, Finkelstein’s alma mater. Eventually they formed a joint practice and slowly Finkelstein worked himself out of the picture. On Dec. 17 Finkelstein worked his last day and soon after headed to Delray Beach, Florida where he plans to spend his winters going forward. “We did a 10-year plan,” he reflected. “The first five years I was the owner of the practice and Ryan was my employee. And the second five years, I became the employee and Ryan the employer.”

Finkelstein said he began working on the Vineyard in 1966 as a nanny. That work found him shepherding a number of up-Island kids above and beyond those he was hired to watch. He kept coming back, graduated optometry school in 1972, and opened a practice in Tisbury. 

The connections he made nannying, plus a modest newspaper ad, made opening his practice fairly smooth.

“My first week opening I had 20 patients just by putting my name in the newspaper,” he said, “and it never stopped.”

Years later, after thousands of patients, Finkelstein said he really wasn’t thinking about retirement. Shea was living in Sandwich and trying to figure out how he could return to the Island he grew up on. He reached out. “So I said well, I wasn’t looking for anybody but I don’t work Wedesdays,” Finkelstein said. “Why don’t you come in on Wednesdays? And we did that for about a year and a half. So I joke and I say we dated for a little over a year.”

Finkelstein went on to say, “Here was an Island boy, married an Island girl [Rachel Cottle], and wanted to come back and be on the Island and I thought what a great opportunity for Ryan. And then it turned out to be a wonderful opportunity for me.”

“It’s hard for a lot of people to make it here,” Shea said. “It’s hard for a lot of people to move here, especially to move back if you grow up here, so it was great to find a profession to do here and help people and … contribute to the same community, you know, that I grew up in.” 

Shea, who is 37 years old, said one of his contributions was to usher in new technology to the optometry practice. As a result, he said he and Finkelstein were able to diagnose any eye disease “in about 20 minutes.”

The practice also now boasts an edging machine that allows lenses to be to cut and fit the same day, he said. 

Shea said Finkelstein taught him that the day isn’t over when you close the office, that people will reach out after hours and you must be ready to help them. He described Finkelstein as “selfless” and “so available and reliable.”

Finkelstein, who is 73 years old, plans to spend more time with his five grandchildren and more time gardening, boating, golfing, and fishing.

He said he feels the Vineyard has given him so much. He met his wife Molly here, raised his children Alex and Ellie here, and grew into adulthood here. “I just feel like a very lucky guy,” he said.