100, not out: AJ Rawling Opticians owners reflect on High Street longevity

OT  speaks with practice owners, Emma Smith and Catherine Sims, about the special role that the Ipswich business plays within its community

The owners of AJ Rawling Opticians, which celebrated its centenary in 2023, have reflected on the secrets to High Street longevity.

AJ Rawling Opticians was founded in Ipswich in 1923 by Alfred John Rawling. During the challenging financial climate of the 1920s, Rawling handed the business over to a young optician, Kemble Williams.

Williams then transferred the practice to Christopher Sims who orchestrated a move from the original site at 18 Buttermarket to Northgate Street in 1970.

Practice owners, Emma Smith and Catherine Sims (who is the daughter of Christopher), have worked at the practice for 30 and 20 years respectively.

Smith highlighted that longstanding patients have been a key element of the practice’s success.

“We have survived because, as well as new patients, we have a lot of patients who have been coming for years,” she said.

“We have grandchildren and children coming in,” Smith added.

Sims highlighted that many of the practice staff have been working at AJ Rawling Opticians for several decades.

“For the patients they like that continuity. They like coming in and seeing familiar faces,” she said.

She shared that her friendship with Smith has formed a strong foundation for their business partnership. The pair met when they were 11 and patients often mistake them for sisters.

“We have strengths and weaknesses. We balance each other out,” Sims said.

Smith observed that while there have been challenges for local businesses in recent years, including the pandemic and the growth of online retail, the High Street is resilient.

“There is real hope. There are still lots of independents like us that are either opening or are still doing well,” she said.